Saturday, April 15, 2017

Making America Good Again: Hope in the Midst of Grief

Emotions are amazing things.  They rise up without being asked.  Sometimes we can control them.  Sometimes they overwhelm us.  Sometimes they inspire us to do good.  Some times they drive us to do evil.

Imagine the emotions swirling in the hearts of Jesus' followers the day after the crucifixion.  We know they went into hiding, but we are left to guess what they were feeling. Put yourself in their shoes.

They were afraid.  They might be arrested and executed. Sit with them as they listen to the voices passing outside and jump at every knock on the door.

They were feeling guilty.  They had abandoned Jesus when He needed them the most.  Just as Jesus had told him, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus.  How had Jesus known?  They had all run away.  Now guilt was gnawing at their guts.  What could they have done?  What should they have done?

They were grieving.  Their friend and leader had died.  Everyone was mourning in their own way while they struggled to comfort each other.  Jesus' mother, who Jesus had entrusted to John, needed them too.

They were grieving the death of a dream.  For three years they had followed Jesus and  His vision of the Kingdom of God.  They imagined that they were going to rescue Israel from the Roman occupiers.  Now that dream was buried in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.

They were grieving the death of the One whom they believed to be the Son of God.  Some of Jesus' earliest followers found his teaching too hard and had turned away.  Jesus asked if the rest would leave Him too.  "Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).  Where was their faith now?  Did doubt creep into their souls?

I usually see Holy Saturday as a day of rest, but this year I find myself relating in new ways to what the disciples were feeling.

Like them, I am increasingly afraid to live my faith "out loud" in a culture that calls me hateful for following Jesus.  I feel guilty that I haven't done enough to defend Jesus in a world that celebrates a culture antithetical to God's design for humanity.  I mourn the decline in church attendance and, most of all, that many in my own family do not believe in Jesus.

Over the past few weeks, I have read a number of books about how Christians should adapt to this new "post-Christian" age. Have we really lost the culture wars as Rod Dreher suggests in "The Benedict Option?"  How should Christians live and witness in our increasingly sexualized and secularized nation?  Should we retreat to develop stronger Christian communities or keep up the fight In the public square?  I'm beginning to think "both" is the answer. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On that first Holy Saturday, amid the fear, guilt and grief, did hope or despair push its way into the disciples' hearts.  Was all lost or had Jesus told them the truth:  "After three days I will rise again.'  Jesus had said this many times.  Could it be true?  Dare they hope that it would happen?

Hope is what helps us hold on when all seems lost, but Christian hope is more than wishful thinking.  Hope is inseparable from faith.  "Hope is the form that faith takes in relation to the future," writes Richard John Neuhaus in "Death on a Friday Afternoon."   Faith and hope always go hand in hand.  

Saying we believe in Jesus means that we have faith, we trust,  that Jesus is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do:  "After three days, I will rise again."

Did hope enter the disciples thoughts that night?  We don't know, but the morning changed things forever.

That is why, no matter the challenges I or the Church face in the years ahead, Holy Saturday reminds me to not retreat or give into despair when things look their worst but to keep my eyes on Jesus.

What about you?  I don't know what emotions are swirling inside you today, but I know that faith and hope in Jesus can help you through it all.  Jesus is who He says He is.  He will do what He says He will do.  "After three days, I will rise again."

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