Words of Hope

April 2. 2020

“Words of Hope” By Bishop Steve Breedlove

As the realities of coronavirus settle in, we’re hearing a consistent message: this pandemic is reshaping our entire society in ways that touch every one of us and death will be part of life for all of us. The latest projections are frightening: 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will die in the weeks ahead, and waves of resurgence will likely recur until a vaccine is developed and widely administered. 
In this context, one dimension of Jesus’ incarnation looms large – his own death. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests, and be killed . . .” (Matthew 16:21). “As they were gathering in Galilee. Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.’” (Matthew 17:22-23). 
Between those two hammer-blows, several events unfold. Peter objects “No! You can’t do that!” Jesus sharply rebukes him. Jesus exhorts his followers to see that his future death is meant to be theirs as well. He says bluntly, “You must deny yourself and take up your cross; if you seek to save your life you will lose it.” Matthew 17:17 adds, in the middle of a crowd surrounding a distraught father, Jesus groans with the burden of a faithless, twisted world where demons attack and faith fails. 
Matthew 16 and 17 also make startling promises. Jesus promises his resurrection just as surely as he announces his death. He reassures us that if we lose our life for his sake, we will find it. Matthew 17 showcases the strength of Jesus’ life-giving power as he delivers the demon possessed boy from the grip of the evil one. And the heart of Matthew 16 and 17 is the jewel of the Transfiguration. Christ is ushering in a glorious new order where death will have no place. But the door to that new order is . . . death! If we want to walk with him, we have to walk with him through death, to life. 
We need to face facts: death is real and substantial, it is pervasive, we cannot escape it. In some form, it is meant to be a deliberate(!) part of our daily Christian lives. Jesus will not let us off the hook any more than he tried to escape death himself. 
All of us will inevitably be touched by death in the next few months: if not the loss of loved ones to actual death, it will be the death of dreams, of jobs, of expectations for retirement, of “normal” activities that shape our way of life. (There is precious little to read on ESPN these days. I’ve stopped looking: there’s nothing there.) 
We will not be able to escape the reality of death. 
Jesus didn’t try to escape it either. He faced death head-on. Matthew 16-17 makes that clear. It is fundamental Christology. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). 
But whenever Jesus speaks about his death, he also speaks about “the third day.” Jesus embraced death, but look! He held death itself in a death-grip. The same is true for us. The result of his death is his power to deliver us from death as well. (Hebrews 2:15).
Approaching Holy Week this year, I am aware of the substance and reality of death in ways I have never been before. I’m also hearing an unmistakable call to willingly die to self, to my dreams and my expectations.  
But even more deeply, I’ve never been so excited about Easter as I am this year.  
The Christian’s disciple’s true faith journey requires us to simultaneously hold three essential realities: the inevitable reality and substance of death, the choosing of one’s own call to die, and the ultimate death of all death. 

In a world dominated and controlled by universal death, death is a necessary prequel to a new, different, eternal life. The Valley of the Shadow of death is the only path to the New Order, to Eternal Hope, and to the Risen Savior. May we walk it with Jesus. 

Streams of Life Anglican Church, 244 Lisbon St, Lisbon, ME 04250,  Rev. Joseph Carr, Phone (207) 406-0450