Sunday, April 12, 2009

O Brightest Hope

Readings: Easter Sunday, Year B

Sometimes there is a cloud over our lives, so vast, so dark that it is impossible to hope that it will pass over us. So overwhelming that it is impossible to hope at all. All one can experience is helplessness, despair. And the gnawing dread that things are getting worse. That we or our loved ones are going down into the pit from which there is no return. It is only a matter of when, and how hard the shock will hit us.

Cowering and ashamed after they had abandoned him to suffering and death, Jesus' inner circle of followers waited for things to get worse for them. Soon, the Romans would come for them. They, too, would be crucified. Theirs was a shrinking circle of grief and dread.

But then something extraordinary happened. All a scientific historian can know is that suddenly, the followers didn't care that they might be crucified. They took up places in public squares and declared that they had seen, felt, conversed with, and even dined with Jesus after his crucifixion and burial. Jesus, they claimed, was God's Anointed who had conquered death itself. Jesus would lead anyone and everyone who asked him by name out of death and into life everlasting.

What has become of their claim? Two thousand years later, one third of all the world's people say they believe it. The Roman Empire that crucified Jesus and later, many of his followers, is sixteen centuries gone. The claim of his Apostles and the witness of more unusual events since then still stand. In blood and agony a message of hope was planted in the world, and large parts of the world are still guided by it.

Their claim has become our brightest hope. The hope that we do not surrender our loved ones and ourselves to the abyss. Rather, we give them and ourselves back into the loving embrace of the infinitely generous God.

Against this hope, the secularists advance unaided reason. But without a defiant and irrational Stoicism, unaided reason leads inevitably to despair. It gives us the what and the how, but not the why. The crisis of pure rationalism is a bottomless abyss of meaninglessness that can be resisted only by irrational means. Stoicism provides only resignation. There is no meaning, there is no hope. But there is a kind of pointless honor in going on.

But pointless honor provides no basis for anything other than societal suicide. It may be that one must go on, but must one at great cost to oneself bring someone else into the world, just to carry on the pointless struggle, fraught with suffering and anxiety? A hopeless society is a below-replacement-birth-rate society, an aging society, a dying society.

Is it really so reasonable to stand reason against hope? Is is really so reasonable to deny our brightest hope, that this one man, God's Anointed, has triumphed over suffering and death, and that he did so in order to share his his triumph with us?

You are free, of course to deny anything not proved to you by unaided reason, or Divinely revealed to you. But if the Risen Christ makes himself known to you, then you will be stuck. You cannot then help but bear witness of him. People will think you are a little bit crazy.

You will have been cured of your bad spiritual infection (existential despair and angst, or worse) by acquiring a good spiritual infection (the spirit of God). In material terms, it is like treating bowel disease by eating yogurt. Instead of the noxious but familiar fumes of nihilism, you will emit the stink of salvation. Eventually, you will get used to your reconstructed self, and tone it down to where your brothers and sisters on this earth can stand you. And then you will get down to the business of your calling.

So now imagine that you are one of the Apostles two thousand years ago. The person you have come to love more than anyone else in the world, who for the last three years has given your life all its meaning, has been humiliated, tortured, and killed. And then he comes back from the dead, in radiance and power, and takes your hand. Don't worry, he says. Everything is going to be fine. Everything is going to turn our very well indeed. Much better than you can imagine. Much better than even he imagined. Go, tell it on the mountain.

Ultimately, you are in the best of hands. Count on it. Rise up in hope. The brightest hope ever proclaimed in this world.

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