Saturday, April 23, 2011

Let Us Proclaim Our Hope

Cross of Athlone

24 April 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

+ Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

From critic to consoler

         In the English language there is a word that is not often used, ‘jeremiad’.  A jeremiad is passionate and condemnatory speech that is directed to a group of people whom the speaker is convinced is going cheerfully to their own damnation.  The word has its origins in the book of the prophet Jeremiah whose condemnation of the leaders of Judah were sharp and his views of the people of Judah extraordinarily critical.  In today’s political climate Jeremiah would have made his fortune, no doubt, as a purveyor of political attack ads and negative campaign rhetoric.

         He was writing at the same time as the prophet Ezekiel and these two men saw that Judah was quickly coming to a political crisis that would not end well.  Both men were right.  In 587 bce the Babylonians conquered Judah for the second time, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and took most of the leading citizens into exile.  While Ezekiel went with the exiles to Babylon, Jeremiah stayed behind and discovered that God was calling him to a new vocation.  Jeremiah was to leave the critic behind and become the consoler and bringer of hope.

         In this morning’s reading Jeremiah promises the people that God has not forgotten the covenant made with the people in Sinai and that the day will come when the land and its people shall be restored.  Jeremiah invokes an image of the people of Israel celebrating the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Reed Sea when he writes, “. . . you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merry-makers”.  (Jeremiah 31.4b)  Jeremiah does not renounce his earlier criticism of Judah, but he realizes that the desperation of the remnant in Jerusalem and the despair of the whole people requires a new word:  hope.

No life without hope

         In yesterday’s Vancouver Sun Doug Todd focused on the role of hope in our lives.  He wrote of medical clinics that are helping dying patients re-discover hope even in the face of death.  The political turmoil that we are witnessing throughout North Africa and the Middle East is fueled not by desperation but by hope, the conviction that change is possible if we are willing to ‘put our lives on the line’.

         Hope is the deep-seated conviction that there is a future, a purpose worth living for, working towards and, if necessary, dying for.  Hope is the realization that God as a purpose, a telos to use the New Testament term, towards which God is working and for which humanity is not a passive recipient but an essential agent of that purpose.  God may not need us, but God has chosen to work out God’s purposes with us and through us.

         When we live in hope, the world looks very different.  When one lives in hope, fears may indeed arise in us, but their shadows quickly disappear in the light of the hope that is within us.  Our problems and challenges do not disappear, but they no longer define our lives.  Instead, our hope helps us define how we will respond to those problems and challenges.

Mary Magdalene, the first apostle

         Early on Sunday Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.  No one else seemed to have the courage to do so, but she alone went and discovered that Jesus was no longer there.  When she told Peter and John, they came but did not stay, only John, the one whom Jesus loved, believing that there was more to this than met the eye.  Nevertheless, he left, leaving Mary behind to grieve and to wonder whether one more indignity had been visited on the teacher she loved.

         I have always found the drama of what happened next more compelling than any of the other stories about the resurrection.  There is a tenderness in the exchange between Jesus and Mary, but there is also a challenge to be a true apostle, a witness to the resurrection who then fulfills the commission to proclaim that Christ has died, that Christ is risen and that Christ will come again to a doubting and sometimes hostile world.  While we are more familiar with the twelve men who were Jesus’ inner circle, the Orthodox tradition has always spoken of Mary Magdalene as the protoapostolos, the first apostle.

         What did Jesus give to Mary?  He gave her hope.  He showed to her that the power of life, the power that belongs to God, is more powerful than death.  He showed her that God continues to work for a dominion of justice and peace and equity even when the political dominions of this world, whether autocratic or democratic or oligarchic, perpetuate injustice, discord and inequity.  He showed her that those whom the world counts unimportant such as women, the marginalized of every sort, children, are so important to God’s purposes that they are entrusted with the proclamation of the resurrection even before those whom the world considers important such as men, the powerful, adults.

Therefore we proclaim our hope

         We will never be able to explain in any satisfactory way to the critics of religious faith what happened on that Sunday morning so many centuries ago.  As Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1.22-24)  All we can say is that after two thousand years of trying to persecute us, to debunk us and to marginalize us, we are still here, speaking our foolishness to one and all, freely and openly.

         We can say that the hope that Jeremiah offered to the people of Judah and the hope that the risen Christ offered to Mary Magdalene continues to renew what has grown old, to raise up what has fallen and to bring all things to their perfection, their role in God’s creating, redeeming and sanctifying purposes.  We can say that this hope continues to empower men, women and children to work to end hunger and homelessness and to reach out in compassion to those who are in any need or trouble.  We can say that this hope continues to give courage to those who challenge the powerful to make room for the powerlessness.  We can say that this hope enables ordinary people such as those here at Saint Faith’s to do extraordinary things for seafarers, young aboriginal women, children with special needs, our elders and many others whom our society sometimes considers unimportant or inconvenient.

         We hope for is a creation in which every human person may mature into the fullness of life which is God’s purposes for each one of us, believer and non-believer alike.  That fullness of life is not found in riches or power but in the self-giving love you and I have discovered in Jesus of Nazareth.  That self-giving love brings us to this place and to the places like it throughout the world where there are still exiles who need to hear the promise of return and where there are Mary’s whose despair must be transformed into hope.

         When we renew our baptismal covenant by partaking in the bread and wine of the eucharist, we accept the call of God to become apostles, witnesses to the resurrection who willingly proclaim our hope to this neighbourhood and all our neighbourhoods.  The Spirit of the Lord will come upon us, because the Lord has anointed us to bring good news to the poor.  The Lord has sent us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.  (Luke 4.18-19)  We can participate in God’s mission because we have hope, a hope that finds its source in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, a hope that raises us, time after time, from the many little deaths we all experience.  We can participate in this mission because, in a world where carpenters are raised from the dead, anything is possible.  (Goldman, The Lion in Winter)

Let us pray.

Gracious God, keep us firm in the hope you have set before us, so that we and all your children shall be free, and the whole earth live to praise your name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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