WHY CHRIST OUR HOPE?
Our story is rooted in the tiny African nation of Rwanda: it is our “birth family.” If there’s anything that could be said of the Anglican Church of Rwanda, it is a message of hope through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (For further reading about this story, consider Never Silent, by Bishop Thad Barnum, Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza, and As We Forgive, by Catherine Claire Larson.)
In 2015, when the Bishops of the Church of Rwanda guided us to form a diocese within the ACNA (as described in “Our Heritage”), we began to pray about a name that would express our story, our calling, and heart. Over the course of several months, “Christ our Hope” emerged as the name that aptly expresses our identity and inspires us to be who we are called to be.
In 1 Peter 1:3 we read that we are “born again to a living hope.” Just as surely as you have inherited brown eyes from your parents, or your particular skin color, Christians are “genetically stamped” with hope. Why? The center of human history is secure. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Death, darkness, hate, injustice, and destruction delivered their deadliest collective blow, but in an instant they evaporated like the morning mist in the face of the power of the life and love of God poured out through Jesus. By faith in him, each of us is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), alive to God and dead to sin (Romans 6: 1-14). Jesus is the Pioneer and Captain of our eternal future in which we are raised from the dead ourselves! Hope is in our spiritual DNA.
Christian hope is not wishful thinking. It is living today in light of the future promised to us in Christ – letting our future realities bleed back into our present experience. Usually we do the opposite: we “bleed” our present experiences into the future (“this is how it will be forever”), but a people of hope move in the opposite direction. Every command of God becomes a possibility for life today. Every declaration of God is a statement of promise. Every promise of God is “yes” and “amen” in Christ Jesus.
How does hope actually operate in our souls? Hebrews 6:18-20 offers a compelling image. We read that Jesus has gone before us into heaven, representing us (presenting us) before the throne of God. (Read Zechariah 3:1-6 for an astonishing vision of what actually is happening as Jesus advocates for us before the Father.) The knowledge that we are accepted by God through Christ, welcomed by God because the perfect Son of God brings us to him, is the essence of all hope. This “hope laid up for us in heaven” (Colossians 1:5) operates as an anchor for our souls. It holds us safe in the storms of life.
But there is an important addition to the image: hope is not only that steady, fixed anchor – it is an anchor line that enters into the presence of God. Hope enters in and pulls us toward reality (Hebrews 6: 19). Christian hope operates like a winch line to pull us toward heavenly, eternal truths. If you’ve ever been stuck in mud, snow, and ice, you won’t forget the sheer joy of having someone come along with a winch (or maybe you had one on your own vehicle). Remember that wonderful sight of the winch line tied secure to a boulder or tree, and the beautiful hum of the motor once the switch is flipped. The line slowly, steadily grows taut, and lo and behold! your car starts to move out danger.
That’s how Christian hope works: it anchors us in the storms and waves, and it pulls us out of despair, fear, and confusion. It always draws us into the place where we know we are completely accepted by God, beloved by God, welcomed by God, and eternally safe in Jesus. In that place, there is no room for shame, doubt, and fear.
There are many specifics of Christian hope – every command, every declaration, every promise, constitutes a basis for hope. For example, range through the book of 1 Peter.
We have been given an inheritance of glory: 1:4-5. According to the life Jesus has shared with us, anything that can be deemed “suffering” will be swallowed up in glory like tears are swallowed by the ocean (1:11; 4:13).
We have an identity as God’s children (1:14-16). “You shall be holy” is not just a command: it is a promise. It is the determined plan of God through Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit to present every Christian holy and blameless before the Father: Colossians 1:21-22. Let that hope pull you through seasons of temptation, accusation, and condemnation!
We have been included in a family: 1:22-23. We are offered the means of forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, and love. Our family displays the manifold grace and beauty of its Father. Such hope pulls us out of judmentalism, pride, blindness, and isolation.
We have been invited into intimacy with Jesus: 2:4-5. If he invites us, we can be sure we are welcome. “Draw near to God and . . . he WILL draw near to you.” We come to him as a family in worship together. By coming we are transformed together into a living temple of the Holy Spirit, a priesthood who can stand in the gap between God and the world. We can represent God to the world and represent the world in prayer to God. This is God’s will, God’s promise, God’s idea!
We are invested with a mission and purpose in life, to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light:” 2:9-10. If the proclamation of hope worked in Peter’s world, under the reign of Nero, surely it works in our world as well. Such a hope pulls us like a winch line out of the despair of hopelessness and meaninglessness that hangs like a shadow around our souls and our society.
When we live as the people of hope, followers of Jesus can do amazing things to transform the culture for good. That’s the story of the church for 2000 years – people of hope for the sake of the world. And by God’s grace, that is and will be the story of the people and churches of the Diocese of Christ our Hope!