First Rays of the New Rising Sun
Hope is often construed as a bittersweet idea. On the one hand, we associate this word with optimism, courage and resiliency, characteristics that describe preserving expectation of good prospects. On the other hand, hope also seems to imply that life as we find it now is unsatisfactory, ambiguous and frustrating. During the Lenten season, it is especially tempting to adopt dispositions that affirm both sides of hope: a desire for a better future born out of dissatisfaction with the present. Indeed, what else can our hope for resurrection in Jesus Christ mean than a final and permanent liberation from the powers of sin that distort our present lives?
I believe that this is a mistaken and impoverished perspective on hope. Hope is not simply the expectation for a future free from certain undesirable things. Hope can also refer to the expectation that what is inchoate or incomplete now will blossom into fullness later. A gardener plants seeds with the hope that with care they will sprout into flowers. Students enroll in college, hoping to earn a degree. All kinds of people begin rigorous work-out programs hoping to improve their health and confidence. In this use of the word, hope refers to a steadfast and enduring disposition that enables the person to see a course of action through to its end, regardless of the costs incurred and the pain suffered along the way.
Considering Lent, hope not only describes the desire for a life free from sin and death; it also describes the desire creation maintains for God to finish what God started in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the resurrection refers not only to a victory over sin alone, but to the perfection of human flesh through the Goodness of God. Maximus the Confessor wrote that God became incarnate to unite the creaturely human body with Godself in order to fix it permanently to the Goodness God created it to enjoy forever. The life of Christ leading up to the crucifixion revealed what a human life ineluctably joined to God’s Goodness could look like. The inclusion of the flesh of Jesus in the resurrection of the Son revealed that the end God has in store for human creatures extends beyond the creature’s natural death to share in the eternal life of God, an eternal life the creature shares while nevertheless retaining the integrity of its unique goodness. The resurrection, then, also refers to the perfection of this creaturely flesh through the perfect and harmonious union forged between itself and the divine Goodness.
Looked at from this angle, the resurrection of the body as its perfect and unhindered union with God need not only refer to a human possibility, but also to a possibility that embraces the whole of creation. In Romans 8:23-24, Paul writes that 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” The whole creation longs for what Jesus Christ has in full: perfect union of flesh and divinity. Thus, as Maximus insisted, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ grounds the hope of humanity and non-human created things alike. The whole creation places its hope in Christ.
Hope, then, is a much more complex notion than it seems. In addition to waiting for deliverance, it includes waiting and working toward the fulfillment of a “project” so to speak. This Lenten season, try to recognize the hope our fellow creatures exercise in the practice of their everyday lives in the incarnation sense reflected upon above. Where is hope manifest in the human and non-human creatures around you? In what way does the hope you have intertwine with the hope they have? Finally, how is the Spirit of Christ at work in the strivings of the creation around you, drawing toward ends it cannot imagine nor work toward without the cooperative grace of God?
Jesus Christ, send us your Spirit so that from its promptings we may learn how to place all our hope in You. Teach us of your Goodness through sharing it with us. Give us the eyes to see the goodness of creatures that are not like us and the ears to hear the groanings of their desire for you. Give us the humility to share with them our hope and to delight in the hope they themselves uniquely possess. May we be a help and not a hindrance to their strivings, may we delight in rather than ridicule the least and the greatest of the creatures we encounter. In the creative exchange of hopes and longings teach us how to share in the witness the creation bears of your Resurrection.
In Christ’s name,
Authored by Derek Axelson on behalf of Eco-Concerns