Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Resurrection Hope

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." _Hebrews 11:1

"Resurrection hope does not know but endures..."
_David Tracy (Option for the Poor in Christian Theology edited by Daniel Groody, p.128)

Something I've always found interesting about that Hebrews 11:1 verse is where hope and faith show up in the verse. The author here seems to be giving us a working definition of faith. But part of that definition is an already existent hope. His definition assumes hope. For faith to exist, there must be hope involved, there must be a sense that things can get better. Faith gives us assurance of such hope. Hope precedes faith. So if we say that faith is a soteriological non-negotiable--something we must have in order to be saved-- then how much more important is hope.

It is also interesting that certainty is not paired with hope, rather the author uses assurance. As much as we may be reading into the text in order to infer this, it's as if we are not expected to know beyond a shadow of a doubt but we are assured. This assurance provides us with reason to carry on in the face of struggle. Faith is not empty hope which amounts to little more than a wish, rather it is empowering and it seeks true change... faith hopes.

David Tracy's great quote, "Resurrection hope does not know but endures," captures the sort of faith I think Hebrews might be alluding to. It is faith which is simultaneously aware of the crucifixion and yet faithful in the resurrection. He continues saying, " continues the struggle in the hope of sharing in the vindication in the life and death of this unsubstitutable Jesus Christ, the Risen One."

There are so many stories of people whose faith was crippled by struggle. When hardship and crucifixion became apparent realities, they simply could not endure such faith any longer. I am only speculating but perhaps it's because their faith was based on certainty rather than assurance. Certainty relies on evidence, so when all the evidence suggests that there is no hope, their certainty goes away and thus their faith crumbles beneath the weight of suffering.

Assurance is not dependent upon evidence, only trust in God who is doing the assuring. It is the acceptance of someone's promise, not the logical conclusion of experiential evidence. With the assurance of resurrection we don't need to know in order to endure. Faith which leans on assurance accepts suffering, is prepared for it, and thus cannot be crumbled beneath it. Such faith does not expect things to be good but hopes that there will be restoration on the other side.

When Jesus is raised from the dead, the first to see him is Marry, who has a deep love for Jesus. Before she sees him, she sees the empty tomb of Jesus. Now, put yourself in her shoes. Jesus, whom you adore, has been tortured and murdered in the most shameful of ways. Naturally, when she sees that Jesus has been reduced to nothing, not even his body is present, she weeps. Now, if you can imagine what it would be like, Jesus shows up... alive! When she finally figures out who it is and Jesus speaks her name, "Mary," she embraces him like never before. Can you imagine what's going through her head? Tears of despair are turned to tears of joy. Everything is ok...
But as Mary clings to Jesus, he says to her "do not keep holding on to me..." How could Mary have understood this? It must have broken her heart. But Jesus knew that things were not going to stay ok. Jesus knew that he would be leaving her again and she would face pain. "Do not keep holding on to me..." I imagine Jesus shed tears of his own during this bitter-sweet embrace.

Jesus had to tell Marry that things were not going back to the way it was before. Things were forever changed and he was going to leave her again. It is in this embrace that we see the tensions of crucifixion and resurrection together which so define faith. Even on the morn of the first Easter, where resurrection is fully evident and obvious, there is the realization of future suffering. Suffering is part of the package of faith in the resurrection.

It's not as if, when we put our faith in Jesus, the struggles and hardships should come unexpectedly. Resurrection hope is not surprised by defeat and persecution but hopes beyond it. Resurrection hope realizes the cross before the empty tomb and still endures, even to Calvary, because of the assurance of vindication. The sort of faith to which we are called is faith that strides, like a lamb before the slaughter, to the alter to be offered as a sacrifice. It walks toward the suffering of this world because in the end we are assured that it is the sacrificial lamb who ushers in the New Jerusalem.

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