Reverend Jan Schultz
One of the custodians of Winchester Cathedral in England loved to stand on its roof and relate the story of how the news of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon reached England.
News of the battle came by semaphore over land to London. Perched on the roof of Winchester Cathedral, the semaphore began to spell out the eagerly awaited message “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D….”, and then a dense English fog settled oppressively over the land. It could no longer be seen, with the result that the incomplete message “Wellington defeated” reached London and brought overwhelming gloom to the people.
But, later, the fog lifted and the signalling semaphore on top of the cathedral became visible, spelling out the complete message of the battle “WELLINGTON DEFEATED ….THE ENEMY”. Now the message meant all the more because of the preceding gloom. The joyful news spread across the land and lifted the spirits of the people: “Wellington defeated the enemy” An apparent defeat was turned into victory.
It was just such a turnabout that occurred that first Easter. The message had gone out that Jesus was dead; it was over, he was finished. And gloom settled on his followers. They had dispersed to their different homes and shut the doors. But on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead! Defeat had been turned into victory. As in all crisis situations, the work of God not only addresses issues, but challenges us to deepen our faith. The reading from 1st Peter coming out of a terrible context of oppression of the Christian Community calls for a resilient faith in Jesus Christ, which becomes the basis for sound preparedness to respond to the challenges of this world.
The theme that runs through the Epistle of Peter is that of hope amidst suffering. It is a reminder to all those who have faith in Jesus Christ that there is no room for despair, but that our faith is always accompanied by that sense of active preparedness at all times to defend the hope that we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is hope that finds expression amidst incredible challenges (COVID 19, sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion etc) of this world. It is a hope that is not tempered by circumstances, but one that is consistent and radical in pointing to a different lifestyle. We need to understand very clearly that joy and fullness of life will often be in spite of and in the midst of suffering and difficulty and hardship. No one knew that better than Paul, who for Jesus’ sake had endured “affliction, hardship, distress….overworked, sleepless, starving.” But he could cope with that because he knew that he had committed his life to the living Lord, and that as one “in Christ”, he would be “brought to life”. He wasn’t afraid to die.
We are hearing a lot of cynicism, anger and withdrawal. People seem to want to tell the bad stories about hijacking and corruption and so on. We aren’t the first people to feel like that. Even in Isaiah’s day, many feared that society was falling apart. Isaiah saw that people were very religious. They observed the proper rituals, but they didn’t live God’s way. The upper classes were pushing the peasants off the land. They lived in luxury, while others starved. The nation was insecure. Israel was a tiny country sandwiched between the empires of Egypt and Assyria. It was easy to throw up one’s hands in despair. But Isaiah didn’t. He had a vision of hope. In the midst of despair, Isaiah affirmed his faith in the purpose of God. There was hope for tomorrow: righteousness would prevail. It was easy to throw up one’s hands in despair. But even early Christians didn’t! They faced life boldly, and looked forward confidently to the coming of the Lord. What Jesus had done in the past gave them confidence for the future. Good would be vindicated, evil would be judged, wrongs would be righted and love would prevail over hate.
In conclusion, as we respond to this ministry, we come to use Bishop Tutu’s words “prisoners of hope.” As a body of Christ, the church becomes once again a sign of visible hope, inviting us all to embrace God’s mission today. Let that be our hope as we journey through life into the future.