Romans 8:24 “For in this hope, we were saved. Now hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”
John 11:38-44 New International Version (NIV)
“38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” “(This is the gospel of Christ).
One of the questions many people ask me, is: Is there hope for South Africa? If so, What or who gives you hope? And what shape does this hope take?
I think these are good questions, as the very asking of the question helps us to find and also define the soul of South Africa. Are we not or are we not meant to be people of hope?
These questions about hope force me to give an account of the hope that is within me. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, when he overcame even death, I see the Christian community as pedlars and even as prisoners of hope. We therefore have a special responsibility and perhaps even a unique responsibility to articulate why it is that we are still hopeful for our country, South Africa, despite all the evidence to the contrary. After all, there seems to be this bad odour.
I checked the definition of hope with two Kairos documents: here is what it says: Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. (Kairos Palestine). It also says: Hope means not giving in to evil (and despair) but rather standing up to it and continuing to resist it. According to our own Kairos document, “we must participate in the Cross of Christ, if we are to have the hope of participating in his resurrection”.
To some extent, I was taken aback by these definitions, largely because I tend to want to jump quickly to Easter without taking Good Friday too seriously hoping to even bypass Good Friday. But it is precisely because of the many Good Fridays we still experience, that despair sets in, and that the question of hope even becomes a question. Jesus faces death, he recognises the odour of death but says: It does not have the last word, and what is good about Jesus is that he involves us all in the act of resurrection: Roll the stone away….take off the bandages. We are therefore co-creators of hope with Jesus, co-workers with the Holy Spirit, as the Palestine Kairos document has it.
It is true that some people, like Martha, unfortunately see only despair and hopelessness. I fully understand that, but that is not how Jesus sees it. He is awake to the reality of this dead body and the odour, but he affirms that this does not have the last word. In the same way, we should all continue to be fully awake to most of the challenges that we face as a country – the unemployment, the crime, the HIV, the gross inequality, etc. But we must also affirm that we are especially awake to the eternal good news of the Christ and the good news that happen in our country every day and that these challenges do not have the last word. Christ is our hope.
Unfortunately, when people are hopeless, like the disciples were in Luke 22 after Jesus was crucified, their actions and the way they carry themselves tend to be that of despair. Some South Africans feel that there is no more hope for South Africa and therefore they would rather emigrate, both physically and mentally. For them, it is about disconnecting from the suffering. This is always sad, but it happens and all I think we can do is wish them well, pray for them and hope their stones of death and despair will be rolled away. Once they have reflected a bit and come over some of their despair, we should not judge them too harshly but perhaps ask them to become our ambassadors wherever they are and promote South Africa. We should remind them that Every 8 tourists coming to South Africa creates one job so they could become our ambassadors. But those of us who decide to stay, must continue to move with Christ towards the terrible odour coming from our collective grave and roll the stone away not because we think it is a good idea, but because that is the instruction from the Christ.
And as we take off the bandages, our life together here should be about re-connecting and about uniting just as Mary and Martha had to reconnect and reunite with their brother, Lazarus. I repeat that this is not about denying the real challenges that exist, but saying that there is a greater force of unity at work, with or without us. God in Christ is busy with the work of unity and reconciliation simply because God is united within God-self.
Let us therefore remind ourselves that:
Hope is not based on what you read or see in the media. Hope is between and above the lines.
Hope is not something that disappears when there is despair, but is rather the crack that allows the light to shine through. Hope is therefore in the crack.
Hope does not disappear when negative things happen, but it appears when, day by, day thousands of small actions of goodness occur between people. Hope is macro but reveals itself in the micro.
Hope is not based on our emotions which is often up and down.
Hope has a history in this country. During the darkest days of apartheid and our transition, the God of hope carried us through. Unfortunately we tend to have short memories but every now and then we need to remind ourselves that there are these footsteps behind us and that it is God who carried us.
Hope is when something surprising and unexpected happens. Allow me give some local practical examples of hope:
Hope happens when some people in Zwelihle decide to come to Volmoed and sing here when it is even dangerous for them to leave the area.
Hope happens when that same group takes part in a choral competition and wins.
Hope happens when people decide to focus their energies on starting a university in Hermanus despite many negatives happening in the area.
Hope happens when people who are on completely different sides of the spectrum start talking to each other simply to listen to and understand each other’s perspectives.
Hope happens when the chess team of Lukhanyo primary beats the chess team of Curro and when one of their instructors wins a Mayoral award.
Hope happens when I get a call from the CEO of the company that owns Arabella and he says to me that they would like to support putting a new roof on a church building in Zwelihle.
Hope happens when the housing for some of the workers who live at Volmoed are significantly improved.
Hope happens every time the Eucharist is celebrated and we say thank you and affirm our unity with Christ and with one another.
Hope is not simply a word of encouragement or a word of optimism. Hope is resilient. Hope is embedded in the risen body of Christ. Hope simply is… and happens all the time, if only we would open our eyes to the surprising things that God does each day through ordinary or rather extraordinary human beings or events.
Hope is stubborn. It is like Spring. It comes after winter and will always come.
Hope is the cousin of faith and love. Hope has faith as its foundation and is propelled by love.
Hope says: “I will always have the last word because I am embedded in God and in a hope-filled creation.”
Next time when people ask you this question about hope, simply say: We are called to act in hope, even and especially in the face of despair. Close your ears (and your nose) to the pedlars of hopelessness and the prophets of doom. We are called by Christ to help roll the stone away and to take off the bandages. Hope is therefore not in complexity but rather in simplicity, in simply following and trusting the Christ.
And Yes, we should Hope even against hope. Cling to hope even if there seems no hope. The great author of hope, the Christ who was there at the beginning of creation and who came to pitch his tent amongst us, will roll our stone of hopelessness away. He is after all the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is the one who sends us, who sends me. Thuma mina.
May this God, the God of hope bless you.
Let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Writtten by Rev. Edwin Arrison