Hope where there is no hope

“Christians are not optimists. No. Rather, we choose to see hope where there is no hope.”
On a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine in 2010, I heard these words from a former bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal. He had earned the right to speak boldly about ‘where there is no hope’ — he served a diocese that included faith communities across Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon from 1998 to 2007. So Bishop Riah’s words above were grounded in the lived experience of Christians across the Middle East in a time of sustained loss, upheaval, and violence. He had seen and lived decades of discrimination, government oppression, terroristic violence, and growing division between neighbors. And yet, he encouraged his people to defy fear and distrust — to see hope where there is no hope. That defiance led to ministries of healing in the form of hospitals and clinics, ministries of peace education in the form of schools, especially ones that integrate students with particular health and learning needs with their peers. The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem may be tiny by the numbers, but its impact tells a different story. That insistence to see hope where there isn’t any creates room for the Holy Spirit to create something beautiful and new.

Arab Episcopal School, Irbid, Jordan
At the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid, Jordan. They’re integrating the underserved blind students in the area into classes with seeing students. The girls in the picture are playing basketball. SLD, 2011.
The defiance of Episcopalians in the Middle East is grounded in the story we also tell — the story of God’s life, death, and resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth.
We choose to see hope where there is no hope.
How we understand and share that serious and meaningful hope matters. It shapes our public discourse, impacts the lives and deaths of those around us, and can join us to the Holy Spirit’s work in our surroundings, especially in the upheaval and violence we see around us today.
This Saturday’s Fontaine Sermon Event at St. Mark’s Cathedral will consider how we understand that hope, how we hang on to it, and how we share it with others, especially with others who disagree with us. The Rev. Lisa Cressman, founder and steward of Backstory Preaching, will lead the teaching time on Saturday and preach at St. Mark’s on Sunday morning. Lisa’s work in the School for Formation continues, and she will be leading the Preaching Lab we offer this spring. I commend her work to you, especially this event on Saturday.
How is it that you are choosing to see hope where there is no hope? And how is it that your life tells good nows? It matters now, friends.