Hold onto Hope

March 25, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Good Friday 
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42; Psalm 22

Today is a dark day. Even when the sun is beaming brightly outside, we draw the shades; we dim the lights; we wear dark clothing; we speak in hushed tones; we kneel before a stripped altar. It is the day of remembering Jesus on the cross. We consider our part in the drama that unfolded thousands of years ago.

576111_10200190424516062_2102912940_nWhen we journey through Holy Week, a week set-apart for remembering, even reenacting, some of the final acts of Jesus – washing the feet of his disciples, sharing the bread and wine at the table, walking the path of the cross to Calvary, and now, knelling at the foot of the cross – it’s easy, even natural, to get caught-up in the darkness of the day. Yet, it is called GOOD Friday for a reason. Although it may not seem like it to others looking in, it’s a day that holds in it great HOPE.

The words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard moments ago remind us:

… he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

IMG_4166So, if we understand Jesus to be the one who fulfills this prophecy, the one who was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, then we must also embrace that through it, we are made whole; we are healed. God’s love transcends our brokenness. Jesus’ act demonstrates the magnitude of God’s love.

Yet, on this Friday, we often reflect on words from the cross that, perhaps, illustrate what Jesus was thinking or feeling in his final hours. We remember most quickly Matthew’s account of the passion story, and the familiar human words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This seems like a realistic cry, but it didn’t end with these words. These are merely the first words of the ancient Psalm. In the Hebrew tradition, the custom is to say aloud the first verse of the psalm, and in so doing, the hearer would recall the whole of it. Like saying the first line of a familiar song, it brings to mind the whole meaning, and we find ourselves humming the tune the rest of the day.

So, although the psalm begins with the anguished cry: “My My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” that isn’t the end of the story; it isn’t the end of the song. If we continue singing, we see in the rest of the song, a message of hope. It reminds us that God is with us in our suffering. Likewise, God doesn’t desert Jesus on the cross. By speaking that first line of the song, Jesus is saying also the last of it:

For [God] does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; * but when they cry to him he hears them.

My praise is of him in the great assembly; * I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship [God].

The poor shall eat and be satisfied, and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: * “May your heart live for ever!”  (Ps 22:23-25)

DSC_1577This song is one of trust and hope that God is with us always.

The lesson from Hebrews is even more explicit.

… by the new and living way that [Jesus] opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)… Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

 

brussels-aftermath-759In these days of trouble, sometimes it’s difficult to hold onto hope. We see acts of terror in our world and we see injustices and deep divisions in our own country. It raises our anxiety, and causes distrust and confusion. We can lose sight of hope amid this darkness. But hope is essential. It’s one of the big three: Faith, Hope and Love.

Recently, when the vestry was at Kanuga for the leadership retreat, one of the speakers was talking about the importance of Hope in our Christian life and in our congregations. He shared a story about an orphanage in China after World War II. There were a group of nuns caring for the babies there. Every night the babies cried. They were crying so much that they wouldn’t fall asleep. The nuns tried everything, but couldn’t calm them. They didn’t know what to do. Then, one night they noticed one of the babies wasn’t crying, it was sleeping. When they looked more closely they saw a piece of bread in the small child’s hand. The child knew it would eat tomorrow, so it could sleep that night. The nuns then put a piece of bread in each child’s hand, and they slept. Hope had overtaken fear. And, Hope is a powerful thing.

GPE_7456-compressedJesus gives us that bread of hope that we can hold onto. Through it, we live in the hope of the promise of tomorrow. A tomorrow filled with God’s love. And we respond to this love, by loving others. In this way, we can be a daily example of what God’s love can look like in the world. Not a life in darkness, but one in light.

The passage from Hebrews goes a step further, saying:

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Today, though we often enact it as a “Dark” day, it is a day filled with Hope and with the assurance of God’s love and presence with Jesus and with us. So, today, as we hold the bread of Jesus in our hand, let us hold onto that hope, and then, GO and share God’s love with others.

People hold hands in solidarity near a memorial to attack victims outside the stock exchange in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions, at least one likely caused by a suicide bomber, rocked the Brussels airport and subway system Tuesday, prompting a lockdown of the Belgian capital and heightened security across Europe. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

People hold hands in solidarity near a memorial to attack victims in Brussels on March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

 

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