So today I want to address a topic that I think doesn’t get enough attention, and that is the topic of hope. Saint Peter in today’s second reading urges us to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” And that’s a bigger challenge, I think, than we realize sometimes.
First of all, I think we don’t really understand what hope is. In common usage, I think hope means something like a wish. We often say, “I hope that …” or “I hope so,” as if to say, “It probably won’t ever happen, but it would be really nice.” That’s not what hope means, and that’s not the kind of hope that Saint Peter is asking us to be ready to explain. Even the definition of hope leaves this discussion wanting. Merriam Webster defines hope as “to cherish a desire with anticipation; to want something to be happen or be true.” Anticipation implies more than a mere wish, certainly. But wanting something to happen or be true entertains the possibility that it will not. That’s not the kind of hope we’re talking about either.
But Merriam Webster also provides what it calls an “archaic” usage, which defines hope in one word: trust. And now I think we’re closer to home. The hope that we have in Jesus is something in which we can certainly trust, because he promises its truth, and God always keeps his promises. All we have to do is attach ourselves to that hope so that we can be caught up in it in all the right moments.So what is it that we hope for? In what do we place our hope, our trust? Maybe it would be better to ask in whom we hope: Jesus is our hope, and through his death and resurrection, he has set us free from the bonds of sin and death, and opened up the way for us to enter eternal life in communion with the Father.
Our world needs this hope. Just tune in to the news to see that lack of hope: wars, skirmishes and unrest in many parts of the world; bizarre weather and killer tornadoes in many places of our country this spring; cataclysmic natural disasters over the past few years that have left whole countries reeling. Closer to home, we could cite high unemployment, rising prices on everything from gas to food, violence in our cities, and so much more. It doesn’t take much looking around to feel like there’s no hope of hope anywhere.
So the problem, I think, is in what or where that we place our hope. Often we place our hope in ourselves or our own efforts, only to find ourselves at some point over our heads. Or maybe we place our hope in other people in our lives, only at some point to be disappointed. We sometimes place our hope in Oprah or Doctor Phil or their ilk, only to find out that their pep-talks at some point ring hollow and their philosophies are shallow. You can’t find much hope in sources like these, or if you do, you might find that hope to be short-lived. And so, as I said, if we want real hope something in which we can truly trust, the only place we need to look, the only one we should look to, is God.
Now, I say this, knowing full well that some of you have prayed over and over and over for something to change, only to be disappointed after you say “Amen.” And there’s no way I’m going to tell you that all you have to do is pray and everything will work out all right. God doesn’t promise us perfect happiness in this life, and so often we are going to go through periods of sorrow and disappointment. That’s the unfortunate news of life in this passing world. The sorrow and disappointment are not God’s will for us, they are by-products of sin – our own sin or the sin of others – and those things grieve God very much.
But even in those times of grief, God still gives us hope, if we turn to him. The hope that he offers is the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, we don’t go through them alone, that God is there for us, walking with us through the sorrow and pain and never giving up on us.
Today’s readings give us a foundation for this hope. In the second reading, Peter awakens our hope of forgiveness. He says, “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” Even our sinfulness is no match for God’s mercy. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have hope of eternal life in God’s kingdom. Because God loved us so much, he gave his only Son for our salvation, and now we have hope of forgiveness, hope for God’s presence in our lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we can hope in him because we will always have his presence. Even though he ascended to the right hand of the Father, as we’ll celebrate next week, he is with us always. “And I will ask the Father,” he says, “and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…” We receive that Holy Spirit sacramentally in Baptism and Confirmation, and we live in his Spirit every day. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives gives us the hope that we are never alone, even in our darkest hours; that the Spirit intercedes for us and guides us through life.
We disciples have to be convinced of that hope; we have to take comfort in the hope that never passes from us, in the abiding presence of God who wants nothing more than to be with us. We have to reflect that hope into our sometimes hopeless world. As Saint Peter said, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” The reason for our hope is Christ. We find our hope in the cross and resurrection. We experience our hope in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. We spread that hope in our hopeless world by being Christ to others, living as disciples of Jesus when the whole world would rather drag us down. Even when life is difficult, we can live with a certain sense of joy, because above all, we are disciples of hope.