A Living Hope

“God … has begotten us anew unto a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

As I am sure you know by now, the reason that I am here to speak to you is because of the arrival on Thursday morning of last week of Caleb, the much loved and anticipated son of Kevin and Brenda. So just at the moment, Kevin will be looking after family matters, and I will be here to take the service and preach.

This Second Sunday after Easter, we turn from the sheer excitement of Our Lord’s rising from the dead, to answer two questions. First, ‘Did it really happen?’ And second, ‘What does it all mean?’

The story of Thomas is one of a doubter who became truly convinced that Jesus had returned from the grave, in so real a form that his wounds could be touched, and he could eat and drink with his disciples. Yet in a way, Jesus had become different. He was not like Lazarus, restored to life, but still the target of Pharisees who wanted to kill him. Jesus could appear out of nowhere into a locked room. He could perceive a person’s thoughts when not visibly present. He seemed able to disguise himself, so as not to be recognized until he wished to be. Yet he also had teaching still to do. The key message: “I go to prepare a place for you”. His attitude—one of triumph and happiness.

But what does it all mean? Saint Peter gives us a clue—we have been “begotten again” by this resurrection. Just as Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit,” so we have been enabled to receive God’s Holy Spirit to start us on our path to eternal life, as the disciples found out at Pentecost a few weeks later.

‘Begotten’, though, is not the same as ‘born’, as Brenda might tell you. Begetting is the responsibility of the father, while bearing the child is the much more prolonged and difficult duty of the mother. It is a pity that many Bible translations do not make this distinction, because there is an important message here.

During the past months, Caleb has been developing in the womb from a union of two tiny cells, which have divided and divided until this fetus has turned into a completely formed child, with lungs, eyes, arms and legs and mouth.

If we were to go back a month or two, I can imagine Caleb having a conversation with his mother that might go something like this: “Mum, I can’t move in here—why do I have to grow these arms and legs?” “Mum, I’m surrounded with water here, why do I need these lungs?” “Mum, It’s all dark in here. What’s the use of growing these eyes?” “Mum, I get all my nourishment through my umbilical cord. Do I really need a mouth?”

And Mum might very well reply: “Caleb, you’re not going to be here forever. Before long, you are going to end up in a new world, a word of movement, air, sunlight and food. What you are developing now is not for the life you are living today. Soon, you are going to be born into a new life, and these gifts, which seem so unnecessary today, are things you will not be able to do without if you are going to live in the world you are going to enter.”

Well, all of us who are here have spent our necessary time in the womb, and have been now born into this world of light, movement, food and air. But we, too, are in a state where we have indeed been begotten through the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and our spiritual life has commenced, but so long as we live on earth, our journey is not finished, and we have not yet been born into the life to come. Nurturing us until that moment is the responsibility of our spiritual mother, the Church.

So, like the impatient baby, we may well wonder why spiritual traits are developing in us that don’t seem much use to us in the present world—prayer, worship, charity towards neighbours, study of religion and of the Bible, fellowship with other believers, and so on. Many people have no use for them, or this church would be much more full than it is today. Yet the truth is that these things will be our breath, our food, our actions and our light when the time comes for us to be born into the resurrection life to come.

The child has nine months of protection and growth within its mother, before, on some date that is never quite certain, the call comes for it to be born into another world. We now have our threescore years and ten (more or less) allocated to us on this earth, and again, the exact date when we pass from this world into the next is not precisely known. We know, though, that no matter how much it is delayed, at some time it will finally come. We have been begotten, and the day will come when we will be born into the life to come.

As the ancient hymn to Christ puts it: “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.”

The Resurrection, with its “living hope,” tells us that this earthly life of ours indeed is not the end, but a preparation for Eternal Life. For which, let us indeed give thanks.

Its message therefore is for us to use our time joyfully and wisely, not considering the time we spend on holy things to be wasted, because the wonders of this world are only a foretaste of the joys and the wonders we will experience after our new birth into the world to come. For this, we can give thanks to the never ending love of our Father in heaven, of His Son and of His Spirit.

– Text of a Sermon delivered in March 2008