March, the month of spring – feeling the sun’s warmth, seeing the new growth in wood and garden – the month that we anticipate a rise in hope as we look forward to summer evenings and holidays. But this year like so much of our daily live routine, hope might seem to be in suspended animation as we continue to wait on how the ongoing management of the coronavirus is going to change the way we approach even the most mundane of activities. In the lectionary the daily readings for March this year are taken from Paul’s letter to the young church in Rome. – Paul’s heartfelt prayer for a people he felt deep love for, which is also a message of encouragement and hope that was not only relevant then but is just as relevant today. As we wonder what our lives are going to be like in the coming months, even years Paul brings us clarity with a timely reminder of what it’s all about.
Christ came into this world for a purpose, it was not on a whim that God decided that he would do this. There was a very real purpose, and that was to bring mankind back into a relationship with its creator, back into God’s family, and that’s the message at the heart of our faith. God came to earth, taking the form of a human being to bring hope to a world that had lost its way.
“So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit”
The world needs hope at this moment. The onslaught of the pandemic has seen hope become a somewhat rare commodity, replaced by uncertainty and fear that has built on the unease that may have been in the background as we see headlines of conflict across much of the world, read accounts of abuse, discrimination and oppression and learn of inappropriate behaviour in so many of our institutions. It is difficult sometimes to see within our world the hope and peace and joy that Paul wished upon his listeners, but that is the challenge that faces us as Christians.
It’s told that there was a cabinet meeting in the darkest days of the last war, just after France had capitulated. Winston Churchill outlined the situation in the starkest colours. Britain stood alone. There was a silence when he finished speaking, and no doubt on the faces of many there was despair, perhaps some ready to give up the struggle. Winston Churchill looked around and said ‘Gentlemen, I find it rather inspiring’
And there is something within the Christian message that can echo Paul’s word of hope even within the darkest of days. God is there, above all that mankind can do to spoil creation, and there is no situation that can be counted as hopeless while there is the grace of Jesus and the peace and power of God present in the world.
But there is more to Christian faith than hope for now or the immediate future. Our hope rests in the Kingdom of God and the promise of an eternity spent in the presence of God. Our hope is in the now and the hereafter. In the now because the Kingdom of God is wherever God is allowed to reign, and if that is in your heart then you are living in the Kingdom. It looks to the hereafter because that is the promise of the New Testament ‘He who believes HAS eternal life’
Our hope lies in the victory of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. It grows as we start to trust God’s promises and act upon them, and then adds two other benefits, peace and joy
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him“
Joy based on a God of hope, not dependent on things or possessions but coming from the knowledge and certainty of God’s presence in our lives, and the certain knowledge that nothing – not even a pandemic – can separate us from the love of God. The love that enables peace – that serenity, that inner strength that can combat the knocks that we get day by day. Overcoming the tensions raised by headlines and that can be experienced by us all, because the power to achieve this inner peace is available through the power of God’s Spirit living in us.
“So I pray that God, who gives you hope, will keep you happy and full of peace as you believe in him. May you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome we have a very real message for the world today. It comes with a heartfelt prayer of hope, peace and joy for all of mankind so that God’s name might be glorified.