The opening words of our readings from 2 Corinthians today are “Since we have hope we act in great boldness”.
Since we have hope....
When hope is mentioned in the Bible the temptation is to give it our modern way of interpreting hope as wishful thinking as in I hope England win the six nations championship or I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.
Simple wishful thinking could never produce the results of acting with great boldness that Paul talks about this morning.
Hope in the Bible is not like that. Hope is a certain expectation that something is going to happen in the future and based on verifiable knowledge of and experience of things that had already taken place. Because “that” happened, “this” is going to happen.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the verifiable fact that transformed the disciples from being a scared and disunited people into being people filled with hope about the future – their own personal futures and the future of the whole of creation.
It is that same resurrection of Jesus Christ that has continued to instil hope ever since. It inspired Julian of Norwich to declare boldly that in the end “All will be well and all manner of things shall be well”.
It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ which inspired the Christians who were decapitated by ISIS on a beach in Libya to die with the Lord’s prayer and the name of Jesus on their lips.
They died not with wishful thinking, but with a certain expectation in their hearts and minds.
An expectation of what? That God is in control and he will raise them up on the last day, because Christ has overcome evil, suffering and death.
There are many other experiences that the disciples had that came before the resurrection which also bolstered their hope while Jesus was still with them.
One such is the vision that Peter, James and John had when on a mountain – High places always signifies a Holy Place in near Eastern symbolism.
This vision, or religious experience happens in Luke’s gospel just after Peter’s revelation of who Jesus really is. “You are the Christ” exclaims Peter but then reveals immediately that the popular Jewish understanding of who the messiah is was vastly different from the Messiah God sent. Indeed so different that Jesus calls Peter Satan for wanting to protect Jesus from having to suffer.
In the vision on that Holy Place Jesus is revealed as the culmination, the fulfilment of the God given destiny of the Jewish people.
He shone with the uncreated light of God whilst talking with Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) which emphasised his dominion over both.
And to add to their awestruck fear - in fact the gospel records that they were terrified - the Lord God himself appears in a cloud and out of the cloud the voice of God echoes the words heard at Jesus’ baptism “This is my son, the chosen one, listen to him”
Its import would only have struck them in hindsight. Like most of us, they would be reacting with a curious mixture of terror and confusion.
But afterwards Peter recalls this miraculous event in his second letter; 2 Peter 1: 16-18
16 We told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We told you about his coming. The things we told you were not just clever stories that people invented. No, we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes. 17 Jesus heard the voice of the great and glorious God. That was when he received honour and glory from God the Father. The voice said, “This is my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with him.” 18 And we heard that voice. It came from heaven while we were with Jesus on the holy mountain.[a]
Going back to Paul, he contrasts the awesomeness of God which was largely veiled in the Hebrew scriptures to seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In the Orthodox East, there is a form of Orthodox practice called Hesychasm which through deep personal prayer and contemplation the ultimate goal is union with God – where one perceives the uncreated light of God shot through all things.
It is this uncreated light of God which Peter, James and John perceived on that day on the mountain.
If true, the light of the gospel can and will shine through our lives as we slowly incorporate these truths into our life. We are as Paul writes;
“Being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (v. 18)
What does this mean for me and my life now? Well for one thing knowing these things happened will instil comfort and confidence and give us hope. We do not follow cleverly devised myths. We are following a chain of belief that stretches right back to these eye witness accounts.
We do not lose heart. We do not abandon the truth. We gain comfort, peace and hope. The certain expectation that all will be well and all manner of things will be well.