Saturday, May 19, 2007

“Living Hope”

Revelation 5:11-14[1]

It’s hard to know what you can hope for these days. The hopes that have inspired and encouraged people in the past seem to have worn thin in our day. The promise of progress that my parents and grandparents believed in has shown itself to be a pipe dream. The idea that if you play by the rules and go the extra mile you’ll inevitably reap the rewards runs head-long into the fact that those who cheat get ahead. The hope that our children will have a better life than we did has shattered on the rocks of economic realities.

Of course, many of us invest our lives in leaving behind a legacy that is lasting. But then a child whom you’ve nurtured and guided goes off the deep end and you’re helpless to stop him and you’re left feeling hopeless and lost. I think “lost” is a good word for our world. We feel out of control, helpless, and lost; and the world just keeps spinning faster and faster. Hope is a fragile commodity these days. Instead of the image of bedrock, hope seems more like a vapor that evaporates under the light of scrutiny. Hope seems to hang by a thread constantly.

But the hope that the Christian faith offers us something different altogether. Some might think of it as just sanctified “wishful thinking,” but I would have to say that’s not the case. The hope of the Christian faith is of an entirely different order. It is no “pie in the sky” illusion that serves as the “opiate of the masses.” The hope that the Christian faith offers us rests on the resurrection of the crucified one.

The Easter message is not that a sitting monarch was “assumed” to heavenly glory. Rather it is that one who was rejected and despised, one who was tortured and broken, one who was condemned to a horrible death, was raised again to life and vindicated and exalted to the right hand of God. The scene of worship around the throne of God in Revelation is framed by the fact that the risen Lord is “the Lamb who was slaughtered.” This scene encapsulates the Easter message: “The Lamb, who knows what it’s like to suffer, to bleed, and to die, now rules with God, as God, at the center of a great shout of acclamation.”[2]

The hope of Easter faith is that the power to vindicate one who was rejected as a sinner and condemned as a criminal, the power to raise to life one who was imprisoned in death, is a power that can transform everything and everyone. And it will. Our hope is in the future of the risen Christ—in the conviction that “he who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.” We hold this hope in the assurance that if death could not stop him, then nothing can. And it creates in us the confident expectation that he will one day succeed in transforming this god-forsaken world of death into God’s new creation. The resurrection is a promise; a promise that the new reality that came into being on that Easter morning will one day transform everything and everyone.[3]

The Easter faith means that the Lamb who was slaughtered wins the victory, and is truly worthy to receive praise and honor and glory and blessing. Even though we see precious little of that victory realized here and now, there is nothing that can prevent him from completing the redeeming work he set out to do—to restore and renew all creation.

Our hope does not sugar-coat the realities of this life. Life is hard. It can be tragic at times. There is no justice, oftentimes there is no rhyme or reason to the burdens we have to bear. Jesus, as “the lamb who was slaughtered,” shared that reality with us. He suffered the depth of our pain. He submitted himself to the powers of cruelty and violence and greed, and ultimately surrendered himself to the power of death itself. But death could not hold him!

The resurrection of Jesus is an anticipation of the new creation. “In the midst of the history of death, the future of the new creation and the glory of God has already dawned in this one person.”[4] That’s what the scene in Revelation around the throne of God shows us—“a glimpse, a foretaste, a peek into the future”; it shows us “a world still being born.”[5] The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the dawn of new life that will one day embrace all things! The new day of Jesus’ resurrection reveals the light of God’s new creation already breaking into this world.[6]

The good news of Easter is that the eternal life that Jesus brought into this world through his death and resurrection not only broke open the doors of Hades, but it is working its way through out this whole groaning world, and it will not stop until every knee bows and every tongue joins in the chorus of worship, “worthy is the Lamb”! That’s something to hope for!

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/22/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] William Willimon, “A Song to Shake the World,” a sermon preached 4/26/1998; accessed at .

[3] J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. J. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256.

[4] J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 98-99; Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 220, 254; J. Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope, 87.

[5] Willimon, “A Song.”

[6]Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 182; Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 197; Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics II:97-98; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:346, 366; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 311-12.

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