In the Name...
A young man volunteered to entertain patients in a local rehab facility and took his portable keyboard. He told some jokes and sang some songs. When he finished he said, in farewell, "I hope you all get better." One gentleman replied, “Same to you, son. Same to you."
I have here a DVD. This little disk contains a movie. Now, I can play this movie a thousand times and it will always play the same story with the same ending. It doesn’t matter how many buttons I press on the player; the story will always remain the same.
Imagine what it would be like if our lives were like a DVD. No matter what we did we couldn’t change a thing. Well, there would be no reason to plan for the future, no purpose in education or in seeking to improve our health. Anything, really. In short, if our lives were like a DVD, there would be no hope.
We see our fair share of hopelessness in the news every day. People end their lives, or the lives of family, friends or strangers, all because they have lost hope. They have felt that their lives are running like a DVD and nothing matters.
It’s sad. And, sometimes people look at life a bit like Lotto, as if there is someone, and they might even call that someone “God”, who just pulls events out of a hat and inflicts them, because each event is usually negative, on us. Again, what a despairing thought. Who can trust a God who randomly calls a number and, say, a loved one dies?
Obviously, no one. But that’s not the way our God, the God of Jesus and the Bible, wants us to look at life or the future. For, our God has told us that the future is full of possibilities, even on a deathbed. Nothing is closed off, new things are always possible. Because of hope.
Now, Christian hope is not just wishful thinking with an element of doubt, as when we say, “I hope the weather will be fine, tomorrow.” No. Christian hope is about certainty. As one writer has put it, “Christian hope is not the prospect of what might happen but the prospect of what is already guaranteed.” I’m going to say that again. Christian hope is not the prospect of what might happen but the prospect of what is already guaranteed.
Today, we heard from St. Peter twice in our lessons. In the lesson from Acts, it was the scene on that first Pentecost when he stood outside the Upper Room and addressed the crowds in Jerusalem. It’s a speech full of enthusiasm and you can sense the excitement of that heady day when the Holy Spirit swept in and the Church was founded. He’s obviously on a real high and comes to a stirring conclusion - “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”
The second lesson, though, was from a much later time under less cheerful conditions. Peter was addressing a group of Christians experiencing a bit of social ostracism and an increasing level of official persecution. Yet, even here, he’s more muted than at Pentecost but still encouraging. And his conclusion is no less positive “For you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
So, two different audiences; two different sets of circumstances; but one common theme. Hope.
And, in between, we recited these words today in the Psalm, “O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. …Because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. … My heart is glad my spirit rejoices. …You will not abandon me to the grave. …You will show me the path of life.”
These words begin and end with the conviction that God is the master of time - past, present and future. This world doesn't just run like a DVD out of anyone’s control. This is a world that is loved by God and our future, yours and mine, rests in God's loving hands.
In our world, it's all too easy for people to lose hope. We can be disappointed about the way we fall into temptation again and again. We can become dejected about the sicknesses we suffer; the family problems we face. And, I don't want to belittle them by any means, because these and other troubles always cause us a great deal of hurt.
But we have, as Peter says a “living hope”, a confident knowledge that God loves us, and cares for us, and constantly has our welfare before him.
It is this hope that keeps Peter’s troubles in perspective. He knows those are only passing events, but the joy of Heaven is forever and, with that in mind, he could endure anything.
In the Gospel, today, we saw another group of troubled people – the disciples. It’s been a week since last Sunday when we celebrated Easter, but we need to remember that for them this scene was from the evening of the same day. Emotions are all over the place. Shock, betrayal, empty tombs, hysterical women, wild stories. This was their life and it was a mess.
And, into this mess stepped the Risen Lord and his words, “Peace be with you.” I think he was also saying, “Hope be with you” for hope is what brings peace - peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of soul.
The reality of this hope is important when we only see pain and worry ahead of us. For, when we realize it, when it leaps to the forefront of our minds, a light pierces the darkness and we see a vision for the future. This is not a hope that clings to a faded dream, a dead hope, but a living hope, grounded in, not so much the event of the Resurrection two thousand years ago, but in the presence today of the Risen Lord in our lives. It is the power of Easter.
We especially need to feel the power of Easter at work as death draws near. It banishes fear and replaces it with the blessed assurance that when we close our eyes for the last time we will wake in the presence of Jesus. The power of Easter gives the peace that comes from knowing death is not the end, but the beginning of something far better than we could ever imagine. And, we see the power of Easter each and every time we eat and drink Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It is not the dead Jesus that we take into our bodies but the Risen Lord and, in the words of the old adage, we become what we eat.
The celebration and the good feelings of Easter Day may be a week in the past and Easter may seem to be over for now. But in reality, Easter is never over. The Risen Christ is still with us. He has brought a change into our lives and challenges us to live that change every moment of every day.
For, as Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” He was. They were. We are.
In the Name…