At the beginning of his first epistle, St. Peter celebrates the truth that God has mercifully acted to give us “a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Pt. 1:3).” I read this and I hear both an assurance and a challenge. The assurance is that God has made all things new and set before us an open future full of the opportunity for new life. The challenge is to claim and live into this hope, to somehow embody it right now.
When we hear the word hope, our tendency is to think about what is going to happen in some distant future. Maybe it’s the hope of heaven when we die, or the coming of a new heaven and new earth “in the last day.” However we configure it in our imagination, what we hope for is often something that we don’t expect to experience in this present life. It is something we long for, something we expect to receive. Yet it is something that may have little bearing on what orders our lives in the here and now.
Yet the “living hope” that Peter celebrates is not primarily about the fulfillment of some distant promise. It is rather the confidence we have that is based on something that has already happened. Namely, “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, because we believe in the resurrection Jesus, we believe in a new life that is live-able RIGHT NOW. The resurrection of Jesus assures us that death does not have the last word and that emboldens us to claim a new life in Christ, RIGHT NOW! It empowers us to stand against the various ways our world invites us to live in fear of death and to choose life instead.
All of this abstract theology begs a very concrete, practical question: What does this new life look like and how do we go about living it? If this new life is live-able right now, how do we go about claiming God’s gift of transformation? The answer is embodied in the word love. We allow God to love us and then reflect that same love to our world. We trust God enough to allow his love to gradually transform us and flow through us. We keep our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfector” of the Way of Love; or as Peter writes, “we set all our hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring us (1 Pt. 1:13),” and empowered by his Spirit we learn to walk in the way of love.
It’s as simple and as hard as that. It’s as simple as letting Jesus lead us and as hard as letting Jesus lead us. And that’s why we go to church. That’s why we come together to worship God each week. That’s why we need each other. It is best not to walk this Way alone. There are many distractions along this journey of faith and all sorts of invitations to revert to living a life that is motivated by a fear of death instead of one focused on God’s promise of a resurrection to new life. So by coming together to encourage one another and “stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24),” we make ourselves available to this empowering, transforming work of God’s Spirit and learn how to love.
Distractions are a normal hazard we encounter in any journey. In fact, we can’t set out on any quest without expecting to have our head turned by things that delay us or put roadblocks in the way of reaching our destination. So we cannot expect that the journey of faith is any different in this respect. We’re going to engage things that slow us down or stand in our way of growing in love of God and love of neighbor. And as we recognize and name these distractions we can learn how to set them aside in order to get on with the business of following Jesus.
When Jesus issues the invitation “Follow me,” it doesn’t come with the threat that he’ll leave us behind if we trip and fall along the Way. Rather his invitation is accompanied by the gentle and persistent reminder to pay attention. In the wake of encountering a distraction that has diverted our attention away from our leader, or when we have fallen because of that pot hole that we failed to notice, Jesus’ invitation remains steadfast: “Follow me. Watch, stay awake and look for the signs of my presence among you. Let me guide you in the direction of love and empower you to avoid the snares and pit-falls that would turn your attention away from me.”
Dave Rohrer, 1/5/17