Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
17 May 2020
1 Peter 3:13-22
I do not take pride in the fact that I expected Donald Trump to win the last American election. And one could say that the fact that I did, makes me a pessimist.
But I don’t think of myself as a pessimist. A realist is closer to the way I would describe myself. And yet being a realist, does not help me make rosy predictions about the future, about the enlightenment of the electorate, or about climate change, the idolatry of unlimited growth or progress.
And so, I don’t speak about those things much, lest I be considered a pessimist or doomsday prophet. A doomsday prophet is about the last thing I would want to be, especially in my line of work.
With countries being in lock down and places of worship having gone online, perhaps it would be easy to be pessimistic. There are different churches providing community meals in Richmond for five days of the week, but these meals have been suspended due to Covid-19, and while we do not host any, knowing that the meals have been suspended has made me feel helpless, as I feel relegated to stand by and watch how the most vulnerable are hit disproportionately harder than the rest of us.
The lock down also affects seniors, singles, and those suffering from depression more than those who are younger or living with others.
All this as we wonder how and when things will return to normal.
Of course, there are plenty of good news. People reaching out to each other, people getting to know and helping their neighbour, the sewing of masks for others and the most vulnerable, a broad consensus that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. And thoughts about whether everything that constitutes our previous normal is something we need to go back to, and the willingness to examine the world we have created.
The First Letter of Peter is directed to a diverse group of churches across the Eastern Mediterranean. From the very beginning, First Peter asserts this is a new kinship group — a new demographic and dynamic — that is anchored in the resurrection (1:3; 3:21).
Perhaps we remember the reading from the Second Sunday of Easter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)
Perhaps we remember also these verses from last Sunday, about the calling of individuals into the church and a reordering of our life together: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Today’s passage assumes all of this, but it talks about how Christians may face persecution, for their refusal to worship idols, for their new social order where all are one in Christ, for the world misunderstanding the Eucharist (the body and blood of Christ), for being different, which has always been a good excuse to persecute just about anyone.
But what stands out for me in today’s passage is the exhortation ‘to always be ready to make our defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in us; and to do so with gentleness and reverence.’ (3:15-16a)
Christians, Peter says, are people of hope. We are people of hope because of what God has done in the resurrection of Jesus.
But this hope is not a hope only for the afterlife, in the way that sometimes people have said to simply endure injustices in this world because the next will be better. Such would be an injustice to our calling to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. No, Peter is clear, the followers of Jesus are to live in a new social order, where Christians share their life across social boundaries, and are called to “do good.” If it was only about heaven, doing good would be redundant. But one cannot do good without hope, if one believed all was for nought and the world was going to hell in a hand basket.
As to the prospect of success of our endeavours, the Czech dissident and later Czech president Václav Havel wrote in 1985, “Hope … is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”1
The hope that we have knows suffering, not only the suffering of illness and aging, but also the suffering of Christ and for Christ. Even if we do not suffer for our faith, we know that it is a possibility for those who follow Jesus. It was the experience of the churches Peter is writing to, it is also the experience of Christians in many places today.
And because Christian hope is not only rooted in the resurrection, but also knows suffering, it is not blind optimism that says everything will always be good, or that God will always give us what we ask, which is the gateway to the prosperity Gospel that assumes that God always wants what we want. No the Christian way is for us to want what God wants.
Christian hope is based on the new creation accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is not only a future reality but a present reality. That Christ has defeated the principalities and powers fills Christians with hope and hope enables us to serve in whichever capacity we can. It also allows us to not be slavishly obedient to any system or power in this world but be guided by the love of Christ.
This hope that is ours is thus resistant to circumstance, we hope at all times. But our hope is not indifferent to circumstance. Rather, it seeks the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) because God has already redeemed it.
1 Václav Havel in Disturbing the Peace (1985): https://www.vhlf.org/havel-quotes/disturbing-the-peace/