2nd Sunday of Easter (A)
I Peter 1:3-9
April 23, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
The human experience is one of a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute is full of hope and the next hopelessness. The Titanic set sail as an unsinkable ship which would usher in a new era of transoceanic travel. Four days later, as the ship began to go down, Captain Smith, and everyone else, realized that it was a hopeless situation. At the end of May 1940, 350,000 British and French troops were surrounded on the coast of France. With the German army sitting all around them and planes attacking the helpless men, all hope looked lost. But then over the course of nine days, through the bravery of thousands of civilian and military men, 338,000 soldiers were evacuated safely to Britain and the rescue from Dunkirk was hailed as a turning point in the war which gave the British people hope. History is full of all sorts of situations like these that were hopeless or seemed hopeless. In this way, history is reflection of our lives where there are times that everything seems hopeless. But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead promises that you are never hopeless.
Depending on who you are, feeling hopeless or defeated might not be something you experience. One of my seminary classmates was this way. No matter what happened, even when both family cars were totaled in one week, Kirk never lost hope. He just isn’t the type and his natural positive attitude affects everyone who meets him.
Most of us, and I include myself, find that trying to maintain an unending stream of hope exhausting, if not impossible. There are numerous reasons why you may become, or are, hopeless: Illness, grief, money concerns, age related issues, marital strife, school problems, friend struggles, work headaches, a sin that you just can’t shake. The list is as long as there are people in the world. And then, when one thing has sapped just about all the hope you might have, some other setback comes along and finishes you off. “Oh, you’re sick? Well, let’s make sure your insurance won’t cover you.” “Work stinks? Well, how about an argument with your kid?” “You’re lonely since your spouse died? Well, how about some chronic pain to keep you company?”
When you feel hopeless, the emotions can be hard to explain. Hopelessness is really self-defining, you have no hope. It can also feel like a fog you can’t escape or a thick darkness or maybe the unbearable weight of absolute discouragement. Perhaps you might have your own definition. No matter how you slice though, it’s a miserable feeling, and if you’re human, the odds say that somewhere along the line, hopelessness is going to darken your doorstep.
The Gospel for this Sunday takes place on the first Easter evening, but the disciples are still feeling hopeless themselves. The last three years had been mostly pleasant; they had a teacher who protected them, loved them, taught them, and even did miracles. Now comes the news that not only is Jesus dead, His body is missing. They have no idea what the future holds; probably just sadness and a return to the way things were before they met Jesus. Back when life was just a series of days filled with work, frustrations, loneliness, hopelessness.
I have a feeling that Mary Magdalene and the other women weren’t feeling hopeless anymore, but nobody else saw what they claimed to see, so they just sat under a dark cloud of fear and discouragement. What could possibly give a room full of men and women hope in a time like this? To go back in time a couple of days? To find out it was all a bad dream, or worse yet, a practical joke? There was only one thing that would help, one thing that would give them hope and that was to see Christ, and they did!
Into that locked room came the resurrected Jesus. The Jesus who had died, the Jesus who had been buried and then whose body had disappeared, was standing there with them. Not only was He alive, He was speaking to them. “Peace be with you!” In other words, “Have hope once again!” No longer would hopelessness define their lives, but a living hope that was fueled by their risen Lord. Now they could rejoice, now they could have hope. No matter what happened in the future, Jesus was alive and that changes everything. We see this when they’re arrested in the first reading from Acts. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them, but they knew that no matter what it was, Jesus was alive, and that’s all they needed to know. They faced every day that followed Easter with the same thing, a living hope.
So what gives you hope? Would you believe me if I told you that it’s the same thing? It’s true, the hope you have in this life is found in the resurrection of Jesus, and because He lives you’re never hopeless. Peter says it this way, “According to God’s great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” This means that the hope that God gave you in your baptism will not be destroyed. It will be battered at time, but it will persevere by His power. This hope means that no matter what you go through, no matter what trials you endure, no matter what you’re struggling with, the fact that Jesus is alive means that He is with you to guide you through the fog and darkness of hopelessness and He will never leave you or forsake you.
Saint Paul describes this by saying, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Hope is trusting in the Lord above all things, and the wonderful blessing about all this is that the hope God has given you isn’t self-reliant. In other words, you don’t have to maintain this hope under your own power or self-motivation. Rather, as Peter says, “by God’s power [you’re] being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” You need to know that the promises of God aren’t based on the strength of your faith but on His love and mercy. He’s the source of your hope and He’s the one who will help you find hope when it seems lost.
It’s been said that there are three kinds of Christians; those about to enter trials, those currently in trials, or those who just came out of one, or more trials. Peter is honest, we’re going to be tested by God. This isn’t because He’s mean or enjoys watching us squirm helplessly and hopelessly. His tests refine our faith, like fire refines gold. Fire removes the impurities from gold and the testing that we undergo removes the impurities of our faith. What this means is that testing leads us to trust in God more and to rely on ourselves less or that we are turned from hopeless things to the giver of all hope. The testing is for our good and we can put our hope in Christ knowing this vital truth.
And the hope you can have is the assurance that while you cannot see Christ standing with you, that He’s there. Thomas came back to a room of excited, hopeful people, but he chose to remain in despair until he had proof that Jesus was alive. We are more blessed than Thomas because we’ve believed without seeing. We won’t see Jesus in this life, except where He reveals Himself, in the Word and Sacraments. In these visible places, we see the invisible Jesus who gives us peace, hope, strength, and the assurance that something greater is waiting for us, the hope of eternal life.
The hope of eternal life is not some distant hope far off in the future. Rather, you can have this hope, you have this hope, now in this life. The hope of eternal life means that God is with you and nothing can change that. The hope we have isn’t a naïve hope, and I’m not telling you to have hope in the sense that I’m telling you to buck up because things are going to get better. Things might not get better sooner or later. The hope you have is that because the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He will bring you through what appear to be hopeless situations. The author of Psalm 146 puts it this way, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever.” God is faithful to all His promises and this is what gives us hope.
This hope tells you that because Jesus died and rose for you that the troubles of this life are momentary afflictions that will disappear when you take possession of your heavenly inheritance. Jesus has conquered death, He has conquered the difficulties in your life, He has conquered hopelessness and despair too. It is for this reason that we say with Peter that we love Christ even though we haven’t seen Him and we believe in Him even though we haven’t seen Him. We are blessed with a hope that centers on the Peter’s words, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” You my brothers and sisters in Christ are not hopeless because you have the risen Christ and He is the source of all your hope.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen