Hope against hope

May. 29, 2016

1 Kgs 8.22-23, 41-43; Gal 1.1-12; Lk 7.1-10

The character of Anna in the musical The King and I said, "Whenever I get afraid, I hold my head erect, and I whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I'm afraid." We've all faced down daunting circumstances and we've held hope against hope that things would turn out for the best. The American poet Emily Dickinson wrote about hope. And she cast it in an unusual light. She wrote: "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all". Hope is like that...it keeps us going when otherwise we may have laid aside our purpose...hope pushes us on when everything else says, "Give it up!" Hope can be certain when everything else is in doubt.

Uncertainty has a way of casting a shadow over everything and it makes us all very concerned that our needs may not be met amidst all the mayhem that could possibly come our way. It reminds me of the little boy who was sitting next to his dad in church as the preacher railing on and on about the dreadful judgment day of the Lord. The preacher said, "Lightening will flash, thunder will boom, rivers will overflow...fire will come down from heaven...and the earth will quake and darkness will cover everything." The little boy pulled up to his daddy's ear and asked his father, "Dad, do you think they'll let school out early that day?"

I know that all the central characters in the scriptures today...Elijah, or Paul, or the Centurion...they all seemed undaunted or unshaken by the challenges that they faced, but as they stared down their own critical issues, if we were to ask them, honestly, "How'd you feel in the middle of all that?" they'd probably admit that although they hoped in God, they nevertheless had fear mixed in with the hope in their hearts. That's kind of the balance scale of life...isn't it, fear and hope teetering first one direction and then the other. Fear and then hope going back and forth. There is also anger and rage. When the poet Dylan Thomas' wrote about his father's death...he wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night...rage, rage against the dying of the light." But I believe hope is better.

Hope is an essential part of our Christian confession. The scriptures remind us that faith, hope, and charity or love, are keys to Christian life...and although love may be judged as the greatest of these...Christian hope is a crucial part of our walk in Christ. Our hope is founded on Christ...we summarize it in our Eucharistic affirmation, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." We go on and on because hope beacons us on to meet our Lord face to face. The Catechism or Teaching of the Church at the back of our Prayer Book says that "The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world."

Our children represent this hope. As long as there is life there is hope. I had a very difficult burial service this week. In my forty years as a priest, I've performed the burial of a dozen infants and children. One died as a suicide, she was young woman about to graduate as the Valedictorian at her very competitive high school, when she hanged herself. Several young people died in tragic accidents over the years, but I've buried only a few infants...two were stillborn and one died of SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In each case the death of the child is like pulling the shade down just as the sun came up. It didn't and it doesn't make sense. It's like a young plant blighted and wilting--all the fruit that could have been is lost.

I have a friend who was to have twins, but late in her pregnancy she was told that one of the two little girls in her body had died in utero. When she gave birth, she brought forth a baby, which was dead, and one who was very much alive. It was an ultimate sadness pressed together and mingled with a very great joy. At the cemetery, I met with the baby's parents. They moved toward the graveside as if a great weight rested upon them. Sitting above the small grave was the tiny white casket the size of a shoebox that contained the body of their dead child. And while the newborn made noises in a stroller next to the graveside of her sister, the Prayer Book burial service was recited, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust...in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life."

I believe that is what our faith is all about...it's about our hope that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It's about that hope that Jesus the Christ gave to us on that Easter morning. It's about the hope that even when we face the ultimate and senselessness of tragedy and death...we hope that God will make it right. We hope that God will wipe away our tears and turn our mourning into joy.

Hope is indeed a strange thing. How can we hope in the face of death? How can we believe when there is so much sadness and loss in this world? Either we can rage in anger against the dying of the light...or we can place our hope in Christ who said, "I go to prepare a place for you." Hope perches there in our hearts and sings a tune without any words, bidding us to walk on confidently until we all meet our Lord. AMEN.

The Reverend WA Ray

St Thomas Church

Diamondhead, MS