What are we hoping for? and why?
Followers of Jesus are people of hope, pregnant with the future. But what is it that we are expecting? As Tom Wright asks as he opens his book Surprised by hope: What are we waiting for? And why can we be confident about these expectations?
In the meditation garden of Centrum ‘s Heerenhof in Heerde, (where Romkje and I have lived for over four decades now), we have tried to visualise the grounds and goals of our hope in a laid-brick design as pictured above. The garden is a constant work in progress, and the original layout in pebbles had lost its definition and needed a more permanent treatment.
Over the summer, two craftsmen, Gerrit and Wim, took on the deceivingly complex task of re-laying these two interwoven triangles in brick, one red and the other yellow. The result is quite stunning.
Visitors to the garden are invited to walk the red triangle first, followed by the yellow, reading the texts at the three points of each triangle. The red triangle represents the grounds of hope, the reasons for our expectations about the future. The yellow represents the goals of hope, what it is we are hoping for.
Red depicts the blood of Christ and the turning point of history, Christ’s death on the cross. However, our starting point as we walk the first triangle to discover the reasons for our hope is God the Father.
If the Father was not who he has revealed himself to be in the Bible, we would have no reason to hope. If he was not a loving, merciful God, slow to anger and quick to forgive, but was arbitrary, vengeful, cruel and ruthless–like the gods of the gentiles–we would have every reason to fear. His revealed plans and purposes for humanity, and for us all as individuals, are plans for hope and a future. Therefore his unlimited power, his loving purposes and compassionate person give us solid grounds for hope.
Walking to the next station, we read that the Son came to make the Father known, to teach us how to live in the will of the Father, and to die sacrificially in our place before bursting from the grave with a resurrected body. As Paul reminds us, if Jesus had not lived on earth, died and physically risen again as the gospels witness to us, we would be without hope. That totally unexpected resurrection transformed the early disciples who understood the stupendous implications of what they had witnessed. For them, as for us today, the events of those three eventful years offered irrefutable grounds for hope.
The third station on the red triangle focuses on the Spirit whose coming at Pentecost partially fulfilled Joel’s prophecy, and pointed towards the ultimate fulfilment of the promise of outpourings on all peoples. The Spirit is the guarantee, the deposit and a foretaste of what is yet to come, and therefore gives further trustworthy grounds for hope.
Yellow (or gold) stands for the glory of God’s presence and his heavenly purposes for humanity. The yellow triangle reminds us therefore about what it is that we are hoping for, what we are waiting for, what we are pregnant with; i.e. the goals of our hope.
Again our starting point is the Father with whom we are destined to reign as daughters and sons, with whom we will spend eternity; whose divine nature we will share. In those famous words from The Messiah, Paul tells us that in the twinkling of an eye we will be transformed and will see him as he is and we shall be like him. This is what we are expecting! This is our unimaginable yet confident hope.
The next station reminds us that we await the consummation of human history with the return of the Son, who, as before, will come again in time and space to break the cycle of hopelessness and despair. He will balance the books of history, making sense of all the suffering and injustices. And he will usher in the kingdom of God, ruling in justice and righteousness. As with any pregnant woman, our present perspective is transformed by our expectation of the future. To live in hope means to live today in the light of God’s tomorrow.
Finally, we focus once more on the Spirit who, since Pentecost, has empowered the global spread of God’s kingdom; and who, in the Twentieth Century, has inspired unprecedented awakenings, surely making it the Century of the Spirit; and, who promises further outpourings in the new Millennium… until all peoples have been blessed.
These are the reasons why, as followers of Jesus, we are to be people of hope, pregnant with the future.
Till next week,