Jesus began to teach his disciples that he, the Son of Man, must undergo great suffering and be rejected by his own people, and killed, and after three days rise again. The promise of God with us is a strange promise of outrageous and impossible hope; the hope that life will come out of death; that God’s glory will be revealed in the grotesque, the horrible crucifixion of the hope of the world on a Roman cross.
After weeks of Jesus telling people to keep his work secret, this he tells them quite openly. And Peter, taking Jesus to one side, talking to him face to face, earnestly, tells the Son of Man that he, Peter, just can’t face it. It’s a strange way to bring about the promises of God, and Peter isn’t sure that he sees any hope in this way forward.
But Paul, in his letter to the Romans, describes faith as “hoping against hope.”
Hoping against hope: Hoping in the promises of God, the promise of life, of life abundant, of God with us, in the face of unknowing and of incredible odds.
Unlike Peter, we are in a position to look back and know that the story doesn’t end on the cross. We know that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that three days after he was killed the Son of Man would rise again.
We who know that the story does not end on the cross may hear the call of Jesus to take up our crosses and follow him, to give up our lives to have them saved by him, and know that Jesus Christ has already died on that cross and risen; we follow him into life through his death; he does not lead us to the grave and leave us there, without hope.
To bear the cross is to bear witness to that hope in the world, even hope against hope, in the knowledge that God is with us, whatever befalls; that God has already suffered with us, died with us, in order to take our suffering into the heart of God. Hoping against hope, the women crept back to the tomb, bearing the scars of Jesus’ cross on their hearts, and found it empty, death defeated, Jesus risen.
This week we have seen a lot of hoping against hope, in the news, in the lives around us; in Chardon, inSyria, in our own Midwestern states. We have had our hope chipped away at in the past week or so, and the burdens of grief that we see around us shed their weight on our shoulders as we pray.
Sometimes that is the cross that we as disciples bear; the burden of hoping against hope when the news of the world threatens to leave us hopeless.
This past week, hoping against hope has meant for some donating life to another out of the death of one they have loved. It has meant praying for those who do harm, as well as those whom they have harmed. It has meant waiting patiently on the edge of a besieged city, ready to offer help. For one group of teenagers, it has meant loving each other back to everyday life after lives were ended. For communities across the country it has meant beginning to pick up the pieces even when it’s hard to know where to start.
Hoping against hope may mean offering food to others even though hunger will return; offering warmth, in the knowledge that the night will be cold; offering comfort through solidarity with one another in sorrow as well as in celebration. Hoping against hope is to pray with those who will forget, once we are gone, that we were ever there, knowing that God has not forgotten our prayers. Hoping against hope is to live out the baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, praying for the hopeless and the happy; using the power of the cross to reach out to those on the margins; allowing the crucified and the risen Christ to live through us.
Like Peter, we prefer to find our hope in the Resurrection, in the Ascension, in the return of the Son of Man with his Father and the holy angels, a glorious victory. The way of the cross is a mysterious and strange way to go about redeeming the world. But without the cross, there can be no resurrection. And, as we live in the shadow of difficult news, perhaps it makes some kind of sense that the hope that Jesus offers us is the entering into the life of God through the death of a man outside the city walls, and the entering into a new way of life through the death of God for us on the cross.
While writing this, I’ve been inspired by reading Kenneth Leech, We Preach Christ Crucified (New York: Church Publishing, 1994), and listening to Martyn Joseph, “Strange Way,” on Faith, Folk and Anarchy – go to www.faithfolkanarchy.com to hear it for yourself!