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Hope against hope

Christ calls each of us to a path that enables us to find and follow the presence of the holy in the midst of being human, not in spite of being human.

Read Mark 9:2-9

Spiraling once again around the lectionary readings for the next Sunday in Lent, I’ve been drawn by the thread of hope that weaves through them. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations, God says of Sarai in Genesis 17. The poor shall eat and be satisfied, the psalmist sings in Psalm 22. Hoping against hope, he believed, Paul writes of Abraham in Romans 4.

In Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark, the message of hope is couched in grim words. Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, Mark writes. But he closes the sentence with these words: and after three days rise again. Peter, it seems, is understandably overwhelmed by the first part of Jesus’ teaching here and fails to grasp the import of this last part. Suffering, rejection, death, he hears. And though, with the benefit of our hindsight, his response to Jesus may seem selfish and misplaced, Peter is bold to take Jesus aside, seeking to persuade him toward what he believes will be a life-giving path.

We know how Jesus responds to Peter; we hear the harshness of his rebuke and the difficulty of the message he goes on to proclaim to the disciples and the surrounding crowd. We see that the hope Jesus brings to us will ask something of us. It will cost.

Throughout his life and teachings, Jesus makes clear that the hope he embodies, the hope he holds out to us, is not passive. Hope is not an idle wish for things to get better. Instead, hope calls us to action. It asks us to align and ally ourselves with the God who is the source of hope, and who calls us to participate with God in working for the wholeness that God desires for us and for the world.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the forces that live in fierce opposition to this wholeness. I have been contemplating these texts in a week that has held horrifying violence here in Florida, yet another occurrence in the seemingly unending cycles of violence spiraling through our world. In the midst of this, I have found myself thinking of a poem by Rumi, where he says,

There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

At the heart of Jesus’ rebuke to Peter and the hard, hard lesson that follows, there is a message about what it means to hope—to hope against hope, as Paul writes of Abraham; to hope when there seems no cause for hope, to hope in the face of forces that work against hope. We belong to a God who tells us, as Jesus tells his hearers, that what is torn down will be raised up, and what is destroyed will live again. Because we belong to this God, hope lives even when we feel we have lost it, and cannot summon it up in ourselves. Christ knows about the secret medicine that kicks in when hope is at an end. It is part of what he has come to give us.

~Thoughts, in part, come from The Painted Prayerbook by Jan Richardson

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