Monday, 19 June 2017

Hope springs eternal

Exodus 19:2-8 (page 60 in our pew Bibles) "You are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" a verse describing the Jewish people and appropriated by Saint Peter (1 Peter 2:9) and re-applied to the church
Romans 5:1-8 (page 942 in our pew Bibles) Classic Saint Paul and a cornerstone of Protestant belief that it is through faith that we enter into God's Grace and reap the reward that is peace with God.
Matthew 9:35 - 10:8 (page 814 in our pew Bibles) The calling of the twelve disciples as His inner circle often thought to symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. The phrase "The harvest is plentiful and the labourers few" is an inversion of the dire economic realities of 1st century Palestine.

The shock and deep horror of the fire at the tower block in West London is a sharp reminder of how terrible life events can be.
Lives ended in unimaginable pain – the fire making no distinction between men women or children – whole families killed – leaving those spared traumatised and in despair.

In such circumstances, any faith in God could seem hopelessly irrelevant and inadequate.
Sometimes it may seem so, but take God out of the equation, the situation won’t change – all we have removed from the situation is hope.

Hope for a better, glorious future where tragedy, suffering and death are no more, and the whole creation lives in a wonderful creative peace with God is such a vision that can comfort, sustain, and inspire a person to keep going even when things are dark.

But I would say that it is just at these times and in the face of such tragedy that faith in a loving God, who cares and holds us in his arms is needed more than ever lest hope is squeezed out of our lives and the light in our eyes get that much dimmer.

It was faith and hope, often shaky and uncertain, that eventually led the Jewish people through 40 years in the desolate wilderness to the promised land.

So many survivors of that fire are now going through their own period of desolation that may last just as long or more, but the hope of a new dawn at some point, where loved ones are raised and reunited has the ability to sustain on that sometimes long lonely trudge through life that would otherwise seem lonely, sad and directionless.

I attended my first humanist funeral on Friday and was taken by just how one dimensional it was. Stripped of the context of human life being loved and supported from a higher being, stripped of prayer and all liturgy, stripped of any hope of anything more, all that was left was the eulogy itself.

God tells the Jewish people in our Exodus passage today that despite what they are going through they are not abandoned or worthless, of no worth to anyone; they are instead a kingdom of priests and a holy nation – they have dignity and purpose – and God’s blessing leading them onwards towards their glorious future.

Through the troubles of the early church,which was small and persecuted,  Peter takes that phrase and applies it to the new Christian believers who were also feeling like they were trudging aimlessly in the wilderness to give them, and through his words us, hope. 

Hope meaning not a vague wish, as in “I hope it doesn’t rain later” but hope in its Biblical understanding as a certain expectation based on thousands of years of fulfilled promises, culminating in the sending of Jesus Christ to save us.

Proclaiming hope in times when all seems black is surely the message of the gospel. The message is contained within the central image of Jesus, an innocent man who came through unimaginable suffering and death of the cross to be raised by God to eternal life in paradise.Out of darkness there came light.

God knows and relates to the suffering in that Tower block because his own son was subject to the same fate in a different manner. He lost His only Son, who had only ever done good, yet was subjected to such ignominy.

We have no easy answers to suffering and death, and it would be wrong to say that we do, but we offer a God is certainly not aloof from death and suffering. We offer a God who in Jesus knew deep darkness but who is also a living hope.

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