Faith, hope and love remain

I am sure that at the time when Jesus lived and engaged in his earthly ministry there were those whose vision of the coming of the Messiah included a world that was freed from tragedy and death. People had witnessed the cruelty of oppressive governments. they had seen injustices that turned poor people into victims. They had seen abuses of widows, orphans and immigrants. They had heard the words of the prophets crying for justice. They had heard the poetry of hope and the descriptions of a world without suffering and pain. It would have been natural to think that God’s gift of the messiah would bring justice and and end to suffering, especially the suffering of innocent victims.

Their sincere desire for the world to become different have continued to this day. There are so many innocents who cry out for justice and peace. Because Jesus did not usher in an age of peace, an end to violence, or the cessation of injustice.

It is a challenge for Christians of every generation to deal with the pain and suffering of the world.

The bombings that killed 359 people in Sri Lanka on Easter morning, many of whom were attending church services are a very real reminder that innocents are still killed. Injustices persist. Death has not been eliminated from this earth. And the suffering and grief of those who have lost loved ones is a mark of just how imperfect this world remains. Watching the rows of caskets and the stream of people walking long distances to attend funerals is heart rending. The world is broken hearted over the tragedy and it is easy to feel powerless to prevent the next act of senseless violence.

Without meaning to be crass or harsh, it is easy to proclaim the resurrection when the weather is good and you are heading off to church in a privileged neighborhood with no fear of violence. It is a different matter when windows of the church are broken and the repairs unfinished as you attend the funeral of one you loved.

We are called to proclaim the resurrection in the midst of the violence, pain and suffering of the world. It is not an easy task. There is a big difference between proclaiming that death and sorrow and sadness no longer exist and proclaiming that death, sorrow and sadness are not the last word. Ours is the latter proclamation. The story of God’s great love for this world is not over, and the pain and violence of the moment are not the last words on the condition of the human spirit in this world. Life triumphs. Love wins. Even when things seem hopeless, hope prevails. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Faith, hope and love remain.”

Bombers can create panic and destruction. They can kill fragile human bodies. They cannot kill love. I watched a brief BBC video of neighbors of one of the churches who had volunteered to help clean up the mess at the church and then who positioned themselves at various places along the road to offer water and encouragement to mourners who were walking in the heat to the church for funerals. They were demonstrating that love is not absent. There were buddhist monks and groups of Buddhist pilgrims who walked to the churches as a sign of solidarity and support to Christians. They were demonstrating that love is not absent. In the wake of the tragedy people are showing their human side, sharing compassion and ministering to one another. Bombing churches is a terrible and horrendous act, but it will not stop the Christian faith.

Perhaps hardest for us is to keep hope. Because the churches in Sri Lanka aren’t the only ones. Although no persons were injured, three historically black churches were burned down earlier this month in Louisiana. A campaign set a goal of raising $1.8 million to help restore the buildings has topped its goal with over $2.1 million donated.

When we see event after event and tragedy after tragedy, it can be easy to lose hope. We can become cynical and say that violence will always be with us and that the best we can do is to prepare defense against attacks. But hope is more resilient than the headlines. People’s capacity to demonstrate love and compassion is greater than the tools of the terrorists.

Some of the newer hymns in our hymnal haven’t yet become beloved in the way that the old hymns have. We haven’t learned the tunes and the words don’t come easily to our lips. When we are feeling stressed, we often return to the old familiar hymns. We know from experience that it lifts our spirits to sing “Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife” to Beethoven’s famous tune. But new hymns also become ways of responding to the events of our lives. In our hymnal number 461 has not yet become beloved by the congregation. As we plan worship, however, we periodically insert it into our worship so that the congregation will, over time, learn it. Its words drawn from Romans, Psalms, and Corinthians, speak powerfully to our time:

Let us hope when hope seems hopeless,
When the dreams we dreamed have died,
When the morning breaks in brightness,
Hunger shall be satisfied.
One who sows the fields with weeping
Shall retrace the sorrowing way
And rejoice in harvest bounty
At the breaking of the day.

The words, by David Beebe can be sung to a familiar tune, Hyfrydol, but are set to a new tune by Emma Lou Diemer in our hymnal. The third verse follows part of the love chapter of 1 Corinthians and ends powerfully:

Like a child outgrowing childhood,
Setting childhood things away,
We will learn to I’ve in freedom,
In the life of God’s new day.
Now we see as in a mirror.
Then we shall see face to face,
Understand how love’s compassion
Blossoms through amazing Grace.

Easter’s message is as challenging for our generation as it was for the first disciples who spoke what others heard as an idle tale.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!