…always be ready to make your defenceto anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you (3:15).
Throughout the last five Sundays we have been reading the First Letter of Peter as our second reading. The words of this letter resound through the centuries coming to our hearing with a message that never loses its strength; they are words of encouragement addressed to Christians in difficulties. The difficulties of today may not be the same as those faced by the first hearers of the letter, but like them, we too are in need of encouragement in nurturing the Easter joy which should mark our lives, and particularly this season. We need encouragement in keeping joy alive because, as Bishop Tim remarked at Diocesan Synod, we seem to struggle to keep the Easter joy alive for seven weeks, while we seem to have no problem in being miserable most of the times.
We are confronted by the many worries that characterise today’s living; we are plagued by stuff and people who needlessly demand our attention; we sometimes seem to drown in busyness and anxiety, and it is a little wonder that our Easter joy suffers because of these realities.
We need a word of encouragement, something to help us refocus our attention on what really matters. So this morning we read, Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you (3:15). On the surface, these words don’t seem to offer much encouragement at all; in fact they seem to ask us to be evangelists wherever and whenever someone may challenge us about our faith – but I would suggest that this is not so. The key word here is hope, the hope that is in you, as Peter says, in each of us; the hope given to us by God at Baptism. If we rediscover hope then our Easter joy will be fuelled by it; it will come spilling out as true and enduring happiness – not as a faked smile.
What is hope? Is it wishful thinking? Is it placing our trust in a lottery ticket? Is it wishing, somewhat half-heartedly, for a future that we know it is not going to arrive? Or is hope something more profound; something God-given; something that informs all that we do; something that shapes all our actions and redirects our desires?
We all have hopes, wider society has hopes – a pay rise, a warm summer, even the healing of a condition against all odds – but true hope, the one mentioned the Letter of Peter, can only be kindled by the grace of God. This is the theological virtue of hope, something that the non-Christian world cannot possess. It is the hope established in the resurrection of Jesus; it is the hope that strengthens our hands to advance God’s kingdom; it is the hope that blesses us and comforts us in a lasting way. The virtue of hope turns our eyes from the uncertain realities and worries of the present to our true end, to the enduring reality that is God himself. Hope transcends life as society understands it, finding joy and fulfilment only in the vision of God.
From what I said though, hope can sounds as a lovely abstract thing full of fancy words, but it is in fact a very practical thing as the first essential setting for learning hope is prayer (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, No. 32). We can only rediscover the hope that is us if we place ourselves wholeheartedly in relationship with God, through personal prayer, through meditating joyfully on his word, and through receiving the sacraments. Prayer then becomes our school of hope and our school of joy.
Peter’s word of encouragement offers us a path for rediscovering Easter joy, a path that necessarily leads through hope. My word of encouragement to you this morning is to rediscover this virtue of hope in your life through prayer.
I finish with two rarely sung lines from my favourite hymn, Jerusalem the golden, which invite us to exercise hope in our quest for what really endures, the vision of God. They say,
Strive, man, to win that glory;toil, man, to gain that light;Send hope before to grasp it,till hope be lost in sight.