The world has finally come alive again. The trees are hazy green with infant leaves or laden with dainty blossoms of pink and white. I could smell their syrupy perfume on the breeze last night long after darkness hid them from view. The grass pulled color from the earth seemingly overnight, and its thick blanket beckons picnic blankets and bare toes. There’s a steady stream of faces passing our house these days, people out for a run, out with the kids, freed from hibernation. It’s glorious.
We knew it was coming. We knew winter couldn’t last forever. But every year here, the life and newness and beauty still astound me when spring finally arrives.
I’ve been talking to a good friend lately about the nature of hope. We both have found adulthood breaking and reshaping our understanding of it. The problem is we have so many varying definitions and pictures of it. (And yes, this is true even amongst Christian circles.) Some turn hope into sheer optimism or wishful thinking. It becomes a blind sheen of positivity that yells “it’s only a flesh wound” even after it’s reduced to a limbless stump (Monty Python, anyone?). Some use hope to fuel dualism, ignoring our present physical reality in favor of a detached, spiritual plane. Some have adopted hope as a spiritualized mind-over-matter technique.
I believe all of these fall short of the biblical picture of hope. Biblical hope is deeply rooted and has radical implications for our present reality. Biblical hope does not remove us from our circumstances or numb us to them, but it does give us solid ground and a steady anchor so we can endure faithfully.
Back in the not-so-long-ago depths of winter, would the reality of a spring day like this one have removed our “pain”? In many ways, no. My nose would still have been cold and perpetually running. I would still have bundled up, covered with hat and gloves and scarf. We still would have groaned when we saw the next blizzard coming, and the next, and the next. The promise of spring would not have stilled the nor’easter winds or kept the power on, and it would not have kept my house warm. The days would still have been short, the darkness long. We still would have done the heavy-lifting of shoveling out the car and the sidewalk, still scraped layers of ice off the windshield. We had a sure hope that spring would come, but it did not remove this “pain,” nor did it cure our collective seasonal affective disorder.
But it did keep us moving. It promised us that one day the snow would melt, the sun would return, that what we saw was not the whole of reality. So we did not give into despair. Spring did not make winter any shorter, but it did promise us that if we could make it a few more months, a few more weeks, a few more days, everything would change. And that hope did not disappoint us.
When our Lord Jesus suffered, he endured, the Bible tells us, for “the joy set before him.” He endured in hope, but his hope was not an anesthetic. He knew what was to come, of his victorious resurrection, but the “cup” was still bitter. He was rejected by those he loved. He was betrayed and abandoned by those he trusted. He stretched out in the dark of Gethsemane, crying as he submitted to the will of his Father. He was tempted to the uttermost. His body was beaten, broken, bled-out. His was one well acquainted with suffering and familiar with grief. He truly and genuinely suffered. His hope, his confident child-like trust in his Father, his surety in his ability to keep his promises, enabled him to endure suffering faithfully. And that hope did not disappoint him—it was fully realized when the breath returned to his lungs, and he emerged from the tomb victorious and alive.
The entire cosmos is groaning through the last dregs of "winter," longing for the full restoration of the New Heavens and New Earth. We, like Jesus, do not escape the suffering of the world we live in. Our bodies still break. Our relationships still strain. Our dreams bitter with disappointment or disillusionment. We continue to shake off the entangling grasp of sin. We still cry, “How long, O Lord?”
But we have a sure hope, a hope inherently tied to the Resurrection of Jesus. This hope does not remove us from pain or answer all of our questions, but it does enable us to endure. It stands defiantly in the places of brokenness, those places which fall prey to the ragings of, as the old liturgies said, “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” and it boldly declares “This is not all there is. This is not the end.”
It’s the hope that brings tears springing to my eyes when we sing Sandra McCracken’s words:
We will feast in the house of Zion.
We will sing with our hearts restored.
He has done great things, we will say together.
We will feast and weep no more.
We are not only people of the Cross. We are people of the Resurrection. We wait, and sometimes we weep. But we wait and endure in hope. And this hope will not disappoint us.