Sunday, April 16, 2006

Costly Hope

This morning in church I sat through the Alleluia’s, the “Christ is Risen’s”, the songs of triumph, and all I could feel is guilt. I wasn’t ready for Easter. I’m a Good Friday Christian.

A Good Friday Christian… I suppose that is a nice way to say that I am someone who has always struggled with faith, struggled with hope, struggled with joy. I can relate to those disciples on Good Friday, without hope, their world shattered, wondering what in the world they had done committing their lives to this man who was now dead, hanging on a cross for all to see. They felt as if Christ had abandoned them. Luckily, three days later they found out they were wrong. Christ had not abandoned them. Christ had fought the ultimate battle on their behalf, defeating death and transcending this mortal life.

I don’t want to deny the hope of Easter, but I think at times we move to it too quickly. During the Good Friday Tenebrae Service at my church, we move from the last supper to Christ’s death on the cross. With each step, a light is turned off and a candle is snuffed out. At the end of the service, the final candle is paraded out of the sanctuary. I would have ended the service there in the darkness. Instead, moments later, the pastor paraded the candle back in and the lights were turned on. Why are we so afraid to dwell in the darkness? Why must we always move so quickly to hope?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship writes about cheap grace, grace that requires nothing of the believer, grace without repentance, grace as an intellectual assent. He writes that this cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church. I wonder if we have cheapened hope in much the same way that we have cheapened grace? Hope has become an excuse to ignore the pain of the world, the pain in our churches, and the pain in our own lives. Hope has become a politically correct way to say that good Christians get all their prayers answered. Hope has become a way to say that good Christians never suffer. God always rescues, always provides, always blesses.

Costly hope believes God is present despite the pain in the world. Costly hope can dwell in the depths of the darkness and still proclaim that God is there. Costly hope can stand in the midst of the most horrific suffering and in that moment proclaim “Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed!” The message of the gospel is not that God makes this world a bright smiling place. The message of the gospel is that God is here with us, present in our midst, always and everywhere. We don’t have to be afraid of the darkness for God is with us. God is with us indeed. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Wrestling Angels

I’ve been asked to share in a class about my experience as a single person. I guess I am now considered an expert in the subject. They are also passing out a letter to the class written by another expert, a 47 year old man who recently got married for the first time. He is much more gracious about the subject than I am. I wonder if his reflections would have been different a year or two ago, before he met his wife? I doubt it. He seems like a much more even keeled person than I am, a person of steady faith and endless patience.

I, on the other hand, resemble Jacob after a night of wrestling with an angel on the banks of the Jabbok… covered in mud, clothes torn, wounded, limping, and exhausted.

I have wrestled with singleness for as long as I can remember. From that first overwhelming crush in second grade (I am pretty sure his name was Ricky. I just remember he had great hair, brown and thick, bright eyes, and dimples when he smiled.) through a series of first and only dates in high school and college, a few boyfriends in my 20’s, and now, the random blind dates of my 30’s. When asked what I wanted to do with my life, I always responded that I just want to get married and have kids. When I became a Christian in high school I found out that this was the best answer a girl could give. It was only slightly more pious to say that you wanted to marry a pastor. I quickly adjusted my answer.

What a surprise to find out that God had not called me to marry a pastor. God had called me to be a pastor! I resisted it for as long as I could. I was always sure some guy would come along a rescue me from all of this. Instead, I find myself nearing the end of my 30’s with a career I never dreamed of or asked for. I am ungrateful, I know. But it is like getting someone else’s Christmas gift. You write your letters to Santa, you drop hints to your parents, you clip advertisements from newspapers… and on Christmas morning your brother or sister opens the gift you’ve been dreaming of. Your gift is nice. It might even be amazing. It just isn’t what you asked for.

My wrestling with God has increased in recent years. Biological clock and all… I have come face to face with my own version of the health and wealth gospel as I consider a God who might never answer my prayer, who might never give me the desires of my heart. I have had to adjust to a life much different than the one I expected. I am having to make choices I never imagined. I am struggling to let go of a dream without letting go of hope. I am struggling to hold on. But I am holding on. Holding on until God blesses me. Holding on until I am given a new name. Holding on until I can walk away saying “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”