Homily, Hope Resurrected
Third Sunday of Easter, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the most present themes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, The Lord of the Rings, is hope. All throughout the series there is a struggle to hang on to hope in the midst of despair.
Tolkien is one of my favorite authors. Any Tolkien fans here? I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings all throughout Lent and Easter, and I just love how he is able to create this elaborate world of fantasy with dragons and orcs, goblins and elves, dwarves and hobbits.
Now I realize I might be losing some of you—not all of you are in to that kind of stuff. You may prefer the real world. Fantasy may not be your thing, but Tolkien has this incredible way of using fantasy to speak to our world. And hope is one of those things he speaks about that transcends the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
In the books one of the main characters, known as Aragorn, stands, throughout the story, as a beacon of hope. In fact, when he was growing up in Rivendell with the elves, he was given another name, Estel, which means hope. And there’s this scene in the last book right before the last battle when a great council has come together to decide what they might do against the great forces of evil before them, and Aragorn has this great line that captures the feeling of the moment. As he looks out at those before him he says, “We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin.”
I love that line. Fantasy may or may not be your thing, but what could speak to our own world more than those words? “We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin.” What could be more real then the struggle to maintain hope when the odds are against us? For we live in a world where for so many, hope is all but left for dead.
It’s hard not to feel hopeless when we think of the amount of violence in our world, when we think of the rigid partisanship around us, when we think of the realities of climate change.
It’s hard not to feel hopeless, when we think of the number of children who don’t feel safe at home, when we think of the lack of affordable housing in our community, when we think about how to address racism in our society.
It’s hard not to feel hopeless when you are struggling with a particularly hard diagnosis, or a failing marriage, or worry for a son or daughter.
For many in the world around us, hope is akin to despair. There is not much difference between the two.
In our gospel passage this morning we hear about a similar experience of hopelessness. It was Easter afternoon and while the disciples had heard the testimony of an empty grave and a vision of angels saying that Jesus was alive, they had not yet seen him, and they still were having a hard time wrapping their minds around it. They were stuck in the experiences of the last few days, and when two of them encountered a stranger on the road they poured out their grieving hearts to him. They cried to him, “Our chief priests and leaders handed [Jesus] over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” You can recognize the despair in their voices—it’s the same kind of hopelessness we hear all around us. “We had hoped…”
But then this stranger who walked along with them shared with them the testimony of Scripture, and then later with them shared the breaking of bread. And then suddenly their eyes were opened and they saw that this stranger was Jesus. And in the transfiguration of the stranger before them, suddenly they found their hope renewed. And they rushed home to share that hope with those around them, so that it would take root in their community. It was in their encounter with the resurrected Jesus that they also found within themselves a resurrected hope.
Isn’t that what our world longs for? Resurrected hope? Isn’t that what the world needs? The promise that things can get better. That there is still beauty in the world. That good will overcome evil. That new life will spring out of death. That all shall be well. Doesn’t our world long for that kind of hope?
Here at Good Shepherd, we have a mission statement. Do you remember what it is? It’s on the inside of the first page of your service bulletin. What does it say? “We exist to be a beacon of faith, HOPE, and love.” “We exist to be a beacon of faith, HOPE, and love.” In a world full of hopelessness. In a world where so many have all but left hope for dead, we exist to be a beacon of faith, hope, and love.
We’ve shaped ourselves around this idea, and it’s no accident that the two things Jesus does with the disciples in our passage this morning are the same two things we do every Sunday. First, he explored with them the Scripture. And then, he shared with them the bread. On Sundays first we read and discuss the Scripture, and then we share with one another the bread. The shape of this gathering—the whole point of this gathering—is to encounter the risen Jesus in the breaking open of Scripture and the breaking of bread, so that we may find our hope resurrected.
But just as the two disciples rushed home to share the hope they found with their community, we will not be the beacon we aim to be unless each of us goes from this place and shares our hope with others.
So who are your neighbors struggling to hope?
Where in your community has hope been left for dead?
Where do you see those around you at the very brink, when hope and despair are akin?
We exist to be a beacon of faith, hope, and love in those places. So may your encounter with the resurrected Jesus in this place send you out to share resurrected hope in the world. Amen.