There is no need to elaborate on the events of the past week. As the much-anticipated new Batman movie played, a 24-year-old man who had snapped, for one reason or another, opened fire in a crowded theater, injuring dozens of unsuspecting patrons and murdering 12. As the details come to light, we struggle to make sense out of what has just happened.
President Obama summed up our hopeless effort to rationalize the tragedy: “Such violence, such evil, is senseless; it’s beyond reason.” Hope is a rare commodity in times like these.
This week also bore witness to further developments in the case of George Zimmerman, a citizen accused of the cold-blooded murder of a teenager named Trayvorn Martin. If we read on, we read about the pending sentencing of Jerry Sandusky, and the undeniable, systematic cover-up of a man whose abuse of children churns the stomach.
Where does it all end? And how do we speak, with any integrity, the theological, seemingly abstract term of hope?
The answer is stark. We are the people who believe in the resurrection.
We live in a world marked by death. We live in a time marked by confusion. We live in a culture that embraces violence. We live in a world as chaotic and frightening as any threat to Gotham City’s peace. But we believe that there is more than what we see. We believe in the resurrection.
What hope can we find in the man from Galilee who was dead for three days before rolling the stone away? Am I the only one who has a problem making this connection? It feels like telling a poor man to take heart- Bill Gates has a lot of money. It feels like telling a guy dying of cancer to cheer up- there are lots of healthy people out there. It feels like telling a Cubs fan to take heart…ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the point, right?
It seems like a belief in the resurrection of Jesus can put us in the right theological camp but when it all falls apart and our brother’s name is one of the 12 dead in Aurora, Easter Sunday seems irrelevant. How do we hope in a remote, even if historically accurate fact? The problem of faith is not that we are filled with doubts as to the veracity of the facts themselves. Our struggle is to make the connection between God being God, and God being for us. The question is whether we will keep the resurrection as a happy escape in times of theological reflection or whether we will grab hold of the promise that the resurrection of Jesus offers to us.
It was this connection that the church at Thessolonica struggled to make in the days of the Apostle Paul. A people who were once sold-out to the God who offered them life had seen their friends and family age, decline, and finally give in to death. Their hope in the God who gave them life was shaken. To this crisis, Paul brought a familiar, if not slightly predictable remedy. In the words of the liturgy, Christ is risen.
This is an informational address to an educated people. But here is Paul, preaching the gospel to believers, as he oftentimes does. He has heard of a people who, much like us, have forgotten their peculiar call to grieve with hope. We have hope because Christ has not only shared in our death with us, but he has overcome this death for us. In Paul’s words, God will bring us into the resurrection together with Jesus. This is our hope.
No matter how bad things get, we center our hope in a God who has defeated death for us. Isaiah saw this day coming, and wrote: “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
We are the strange and peculiar people whose hope is rooted in a man who is stronger than death. And not only is he stronger than death, but his gospel is an invitation into the life of victory, of resurrection together with him.
The news was ugly this week, and it may well be just as ugly next week. We can be assured that as long as we have breath, we will curse one another; as long as we have strength, we will injure one another; as long as we have blood in our veins, our hearts will pump in resistance to the life our God offers to us. And so grief is a part of our world, but our grief is a peculiar one.
We grieve with hope because we are guaranteed a share in the resurrection of Jesus. And we offer that hope to those nearby, as beggars pointing other beggars to the source of the bread of life.
Our call is not to make sense of evil, but to oppose it with the gospel of Christ. We oppose death with life abundant. And we grieve with a solid hope. The resurrection of Jesus is for us.