IS 49: 1-6
PS 71: 1-2, 3-4A, 5AB-6AB, 15 AND 17
JN 13: 21-33, 36-38
Today we are at the very end of Lent, and Jesus' betrayal is almost at hand. Looking at his situation from the perspective of the Romans, it could seem like "I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength," (IS 49:4) -- about to be betrayed by one of his closest friends and abandoned by the rest, have the city of Jerusalem turn their backs on him after "hosannah-ing" him in just a few days earlier, and have his efforts to heal and feed and liberate be rewarded by being condemned to a grisly and shameful death.
As it so happens, today is also the 149th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; I just saw a poster from several years back advertising "the 200th anniversary of the birth of America's greatest president," but at the time he died, his life too might have seen like a failure: getting the nation into the most horrible and bloody war they had ever seen, destroying the infrastructure of the very people he was fighting not to secede, and not even living to see the end of all the fighting (General Lee having surrendered the week before his death, but the fighting still carrying on several more months as the news disseminated). Not exactly a scene that might lead him to believe that he would be so widely revered as the greatest or one of the presidents in American history.
Hope in these circumstances might simply look like a dogged refusal to acknowledge reality - wishful thinking. Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote, "Hope is the worst of all evils, for it prolongs the torments of Man," and we all know people who have stayed in unhealthy relationships, sick work environments, abusive marriages, and so on for far too long because they held out continual wishful thinking that "next time will be different." But hope might also, and I suggest more properly, be understood as a recognition that there is more possibility out there than what I am capable of seeing from my limited vantage point. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that hope has something to do with trusting that God will be in the future as God has been in the past: this is why so many lament psalms can have enough chutzpah to ask where God is, why things are so bad, and how long things will stay the way they are now: because the psalmist knows God from God's history of fidelity and action, and so comes to expect more of the same and can even "remind" God of who God has been.
As Lent draws near, consider the areas of your life and our lives together that may seem the most broken, that most feel like an exercise in futility. Simply put, hope. Know that there is more goodness at work than what you are able to manage or even identify. You may know the prayer that has been ascribed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, sometimes called "The Long View" - a reminder of our limited vantage point and ability to manipulate reality. Jesus did not end the injustices he fought, Abraham Lincoln did not end racism (or even slavery), and we do not accomplish our lives all at once, or even once and for all. But knowing that "the kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision" can free us to not despair over the realities that we cannot yet see, and give us confidence that our lives are situated in a larger Life, a larger project of the coming of the reign of God, that promises the renewal of the world even where that renewal seems utterly impossible - as impossible as the return of a condemned criminal from the grave.