ďEasterís HopeĒ

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Revelation 21:1-6

May 2, 2004

 

During the Thirty Yearsí War in the 17th Century, German pastor Paul Gerhardt and his family were forced to flee from their home.One night as they stayed in a small village inn, homeless and afraid, his wife broke down and cried openly in despair.To comfort her, Gerhardt reminded her of Scripture promises about Godís providence and care.Then, going out to the garden to be alone, he too broke down and wept, with the feeling that he had come to his darkest hour.

As we all know, life is full of mountains and valleys, but at times it seems as if the events of life all have a constant downward slope, if not sometimes a sheer drop off.This week has been one of those times.As a nation, we have just gone through the deadliest month for our soldiers in Iraq.Newspapers have published pictures of our fallen brothers and sisters.Twenty-four hour news channels constantly remind us of the death and destruction around the world.As a community, we continue to reel from the pain and sadness and disbelief of the tragic deaths of three of our young adults, and we grieve with the families who are indeed experiencing the darkest hour of their lives.

It doesnít take one long to notice that we live in a world that struggles against hopelessness.Each one of us, whether nationally, communally, or individually, has these moments when it seems that life is nothing but a downward spiral of sorrow and despair.

For some, hopelessness can manifest itself in moments following a major loss of life: a loved one, a job, a meaningful relationship, or even a sense of purpose.For some its moments tied to habits, addictions, or obsessions, which rob life of joy.Still for others its moments tied to a profound sense of meaninglessness over senseless acts of violence, or even a growing cynicism toward political, religious, and business leaders over scandalous activities and shady deals.Who among us has not wondered if all hope is lost?

The married couple who seem to always wind up at the same dead-end of unresolved conflict again and again.The person who continues to sink deeper and deeper into depression and anxiety.The single parent who works a full-time job by day, serves as both mother and father by night, and wonders how long he or she can keep it up.The person who has to care for a dying spouse.The child who has to care for an aging or dying parent.A generation of young people who seem to be easy marks for drugs, STDís, abuse, or the pain of a broken family.A family living in a crime-ridden neighborhood or war-torn city.

Who among us as not stood in the midst of the valley of hopelessness and sensed death in the midst of life?Who among us has not faced a situation in which any possibility of restoration seems scarcely possible, if not ruled out completely?Who among us has not wondered if all hope is lost?

 

 

In our text from Ezekiel, the prophet stands in the midst of the valley hopelessness, the valley of dry bones, bones that are disconnected and weathered and strewn all over the floor of the forgotten valley.These are the bones of the Israelites, people experiencing death in the midst of life.

The Assyrians had defeated the Northern Kingdom and dispersed the population all over the empire.A century later, the Babylonians had conquered the Southern Kingdom destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, and carried off the people as slaves.

The royal leadership had been wiped out, religious and intellectual leadership taken with the rest of the people into exile. Everything had been lost: land, livelihood, national identity.They were a people who had lost all hope for the future.They were a people so dead in hopelessness that they were not even sure they could believe in God anymore.

But then something happens.God acts.God does the impossible.God raises the dead to life again.The prophet speaks the word of the Lord, speaks the word of hope in the midst of hopelessness, and becomes the agent of Godís resurrection work, a faithful messenger who remembers the promises of God amidst the valleys of life.

Through the spoken message of hope, the bones start to rattle and come together, bone to its bone.Muscle and flesh and skin begin to cover them, then the breath of God came into them and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast mulitude.†† God raises the dead to life again.God restores hope when all hope seems lost.God has taken death out of their lives.

In this Easter season, we too are reminded of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, for Easterís hope is a promise that God is not absent from us whether we are on the highest mountain or deepest valley of life.

Easterís hope is a reminder that the hope we have, is found in God alone, for true resurrection hope belongs only to God.It is God who raised Jesus from the dead, and it is only God who can bring hope when all hope seems lost.

Our text from Revelation is a proclamation that the hope we are talking about is not wishful thinking, or a superficial optimism that says in the end everything will turn out okay.Easterís hope is the radical worldview that anticipates a time when all that brings hopelessness and despair will no longer exist, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

††††††††† John in his Revelation has pinned his hope on God and it is that hope which gives him the courage to proclaim to other Christians to stand firm in the Lord during their years of persecution.Easterís hope is the radical vision and longing anticipation, the literal straining of oneís neck to see that which is greater than the world we live in, to see the God who will wipe every tear from their eyes, who even now is in the process of making all things new, to see the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, to see the God who gives water to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.

It is times like these that we need Godís hope, because we know that no one is immune from heartaches and tragedys and sorrows of life.Itís because life has its ups and downs that we need hope.If life was always experienced upon the mountain tops, we wouldnít need hope, but because life also has its valleys, we need the assurance that God is at work, and the confidence that Godís love will prevail in the end.

††††††††† It is hope that tells us that God does not just sit and watch from heaven, but is actively involved in our life, that Godís promises have been and will be fulfilled, that God is even now righting the wrongs, bringing justice where there is injustice, freedom where there is oppression, and reconciliation where there is brokenness.

††††††††† It is hope that keeps us going in our lives of faith, because it is hope that reminds us that God will have the final say, that Godís plans will always prevail.

Hope is what keeps us alive, and connects us to the future, to the future that is of Godís doing, not our own.Hope makes it possible for us to get started again when life grinds to a stop.Hope is what makes it possible for us to go on, giving us the strength to persevere when life becomes discouraged and frustrated.Hope is what makes it possible to handle the burdens we face in life, because it is through hope that we realize God is in control.Hope is what makes it possible to live again, because hope gives our journey a direction and our life divine meaning and purpose.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a very famous and highly respected British journalist and writer, who for many years was an ardent atheist.His opinions and thoughts were covered by American publishers and he occasionally wrote for Time magazine.Toward the end of his life, he became a Christian.There is a story about him of when we was a quest speaker at a breakfast in Washington D.C. where he shared his life story.When he had finished his testimony, he made a number of comments about world affairs, all of which were very pessimistic.One person asked him, ďDr. Muggeridge, you have been very pessimistic.Donít you have an reason for optimism?íDr. Muggeridge replied, ďI could not be more optimistic than I am, because my hope is in Jesus Christ alone.ĒHe allowed the remark to settle in for a few seconds, and then he added, ďJust think if the apostolic church had pinned its hopes on the Roman Empire.Ē(Halverson: The Living Body).

††††††††† Soon after Paul Gerhardt broke down and wept, he felt the burden lifted and sensed anew the Lordís presence.Taking his pen, he wrote a hymn that has brought comfort to many with the message of hope:††

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

 

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

 

Let us remember the hope that comes from God in Jesus Christ, and pin our hope on him, for he is the light that breaks into the darkness of hopelessness and gives us the glory upon which to focus our eyes of faith.Amen.