Dear friends. The readings at Mass for the next few weeks, right up to Christmas, are all about the future and hope. This is fitting for the time of year – we remember our dead in November, the Church year will end in three weeks, the calendar year is drawing to a close, the leaves are falling off the trees and the nights are getting longer. Therefore, it is a good time to consider what it is we hope for at a time when many things are ending.
The second reading today is precisely about hope. It is about the hope of the early Christians in the face of death where St Paul tells the Thessalonians: ‘We want you to be quite certain, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them like the pagans who have no hope’. Here we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: death is not the end or what destroys everything, making life meaningless. It is not that we know the details of what awaits us, but we know in general terms that our lives will not end in emptiness. And in the light of this hope that we have, we live differently.
Take for example the early Christians in Rome who were captured and condemned. As they sang hymns, the Romans who brought them to their deaths were amazed by their lack of fear, such was their conviction in the truth of what St Paul says in his letter today: ‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him’. So we see in these first martyrs how their faith and hope for the future made them joyful and fearless in the present.
We might ask the question, why does the Church harp on so much about hope in life after death? What about hope for justice and hope for a better world in this life? Again we look to the early Church for an answer. After the resurrection, the first Christians believed that if God could raise someone from the dead then his power was unlimited and active in all aspects of life. Everything changed in the light of Easter. That is why St Paul spoke about death no longer having power over us (cf. Rom. 6:9) and prays: ‘Glory to him whose power working within us can infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine’ (Eph. 3:20). This was the spirit that the first Christians carried into every situation with hope and confidence – that every injustice or situation of evil was destined to end because of the resurrection. For us Christians then, it means that because Jesus has conquered death, everything is possible.
I think that we understand well the hope we have for life after death. Perhaps we do not grasp as well what hope means for life before death. So often our hopes in the face of troubles or sickness are for things to go back to how they were or we hope to avoid suffering and trouble. But this is not real hope and it will inevitably deceive us because nothing stays the same and suffering and death will undoubtedly come. Rather, real Christian hope is believing that despite what comes, the God who raises from the dead will be present and active with his power, inviting us to patiently trust, to grow in holiness and become the people he wants us to be. Real hope is not in things staying the same or avoiding trouble. It is the hope of Easter Sunday and the victory of Christ over the worst of sin, suffering and death that he shares with us so we can live in freedom and in joyful hope of a future in God.
So while we live through moments of finite disappointment, let us never lose the infinite hope that comes with our faith. In this month of November an as the year comes to and end, may we look forward in the joyful hope to Advent whose light comes from the hope of Easter.