6th Week of Easter (R): Acts 18.9-18 and John 16.2-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation,
If God leaves us, who are we then? Let’s say: God is dead. What now? Anything goes: might makes right; money rules; power corrupts; the weak suffer at hands of the strong; the poor will still be blessed but they will be hungry first…wait a second! All of these are true now! And we don’t believe that God is dead. Do we believe that He has left us? Let’s say: God has left us alone. What now? We can wait—for His return; for the return of His Christ; for some sort of End to All This; we can just Wait and let waiting be who we are and what we do until…when? It’s over? We can grieve—that He has left us; that He might have died but we’re not sure; over our now fading memories or the fading memories of those who knew someone who knew someone who knew Him once upon a time. We can weep and mourn. Or we can hope. Or we can weep, mourn, and hope. But hope alone is best.
The most radically transforming activity we can engage in given Christ’s Passion, Resurrection, and his coming Ascension is hope. No other labor, no other “thing to do” right now, given our history and given the signs of these darkening times, nothing else remotely makes sense but Hope. Seeing his disciples in anguish over his impending departure, Jesus says to them: “…I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” If this is comforting—and maybe it is—here’s a question for us: who are we until then? Who are we to be until Jesus comes back? We are his disciples, his students and his brothers and sisters. And then he leaves. Now, who are we? Are we mourners? Weepers? What do we do? Huddle in locked rooms wishing away adversity and pain? Retreat into a closed world of private spiritual practice and increasingly gnostic and ultimately useless religious arcania? Are we anxious hand-wringers? No. Do we fear the world and draw the shades? No. We are men and women of the Spirit! And before we do anything else—pray, worship, serve, sacrifice, fast—before we do anything else, we hope! When we fail to hope, we join Jesus’ accusers, calling him a liar and fraud.
What do we do, then, when we hope? We invest in Jesus’ promises; we place that which is most valuable to us “at risk,” believing completely that his Word is trustworthy. We hear his vow to return and we know that he will. No guessing or gambling. No probabilities or chance. Knowledge. We know he will be back. If we hope with any integrity at all, then it follows that we live the lives he left us to live: lives of eager holiness, exhaustive service, constant conversion, far-flung evangelization, prophetic witness, and priestly sacrifice. If you truly believe that he is returning to us, your hope, your passion for seeing his promises fulfilled, will propel you out, kick you out there and give you the shining face of Christ, his healing hands, and powerful tongue. Ask, then, what you will and receive what the Father gives.
If God leaves us, who are we? We are not orphans nor are we homeless. We are not abandoned or sold, traded or bought. We are not strays to be collected by some other god or some other teacher or philosopher or devil. We are not children left alone nor grown-ups warehoused, conveniently stored until his return. We are children of the Most High. Brothers and sisters of Christ. A people raised up. A royal priesthood and a mighty kingdom. And though we may anguish now, though we may flounder now in some small darkness, our grief will become joy—must become joy—because anything less than hope, anything cheaper than full-on hope from us tells the world that Jesus is a liar. And there is nothing left for us but despair.
Contrast: who are you when you hope in Christ? Who are you when you despair of his hope?