Holy Cross Day: Hold Onto Hope!
By: Chris Clow
If you’ve ever been to a ballgame, or if you’ve ever heard stereotypes about people who go to ballgames, then you know this is the most famous passage of the entire gospel. It doesn’t seem as common anymore, but sometimes I can usually find someone holding up a sign in the stadium that reads “John 3:16.” Truly a beautiful, stirring witness. I’m not sure what it has to do with Martinez striking out the side, but, ya know, good for them for reminding us all that the gospel of John exists.
But make no mistake: today’s passage is an important reading in the gospel of John. What Jesus gives us today sure seems like his condensed mission statement. Obviously, Holy Cross Day tends to focus on the “lifted up” part, the “how” part of salvation history. Jesus, from the beginning of his ministry, seems to realize just what his life and his work will cost. But even more, he seems to have a sense of what his work is for – salvation for all who believe. This continuing, ever expanding and overflowing of God’s great love for others will reach its climax in Jesus. On the surface, that’s what this day seems to get at: the miraculous “how” of our salvation history.
But, for this passage, it’s not the “how” that fascinates me. It’s the “why.”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.”
The idea that God loves the world should not be a tough one for us to wrap our minds around. After all, from the very beginning of Scripture we hear that all was created good. We see time and time again a God who is concerned for us, looks out for us, and wants to be in relationship with us. Yet we still need to be reminded, more often than we should probably need, that God loves us and loves this crazy, broken world.
I know I can find it difficult to hold onto. Some days there’s a part of me that kind of wants some condemning of this world. As I write this, some of our best and brightest senators, many of them Christian, are debating how many millions of people will lose their health insurance in the next decade so the richest among us can receive another tax break. As I write this, I see more reports of horrific crimes against Christians in other countries, not to mention atrocities against our brothers and sisters of all faiths, beliefs, and lands. I’m sure that whenever you are reading this, there will be yet another attack, yet another act of terrorism, yet another horrible event taking place in our busted up world that makes you question how the Almighty can allow it. It is draining to look around and see just how far from the Kingdom we are, and to wonder whether we will ever truly get there. It is frustrating to feel so powerless in the face of selfishness, destruction, and despair. It can be easy, when we’re tired, when we are sick of fighting, or when we feel we can’t go on, to simply give in to that despair, and to wonder how things will ever get better.
But that despair cannot be what controls our vision. We as Christians are called to see the world for what it is, but to not allow our perspective to be dominated by it. There were naysayers and doomsday prophets in Jesus’ time, too; yet, he does not allow their negativity and despair to cloud his sight. Remember, we’re just one chapter away from Jesus’ miracle at a wedding. We believe in a God who rejoices with us. We believe in a God who, in spite of our problems and failings, still goes to bat for us. Yes, Christians are called to an eschatological hope – our hope of eternal salvation – but our hope in Christ is not just limited to the afterlife. Constantly throughout Scripture we hear references that remind us, as Paul writes, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Our hope cannot simply be located in a far-off future; our hope is found right here and now.
That’s why God finds this world worth saving. That’s why God finds this world worth something. Yes, of course there is evil and sin and brokenness. But there is good, too. There is so much good, that even the death of Christ on the cross cannot stop the love of God for us. The love of God is so strong that not even death could keep God away from us. What chance will all other evils in this world have? Yes, our hope is not just that God will one day draw all things to himself – God is doing that right now, in our midst today. God has loved us, is loving us now, and will continue to love us.
It can be hard to hold onto that hope; it sometimes may look like foolishness. Maybe that’s what makes it so important. I remember being on a high school retreat at this abbey in the middle of nowhere Indiana. (Side note: as many of my students come from very small towns, and that is not my upbringing at all, I like to say they’re from the middle of nowhere Iowa, or middle of nowhere Illinois. They laugh about as often as you’d expect.) While there were many grains of wisdom gathered during my week there, I remember this one, very simple prayer, from a sarcastic, flat affect-ed Benedictine monk. He didn’t exactly seem to inspire the joy of the gospel, but I suspect there was far more to him than at first glance. He gave me a prayer I turn to when I have little else to rely on:
“Lord, you haven’t failed me yet.”
This is where I hang my hope. This is what the cross says to me, that there is nothing stronger than the love of God, ever working in my life, in all of our lives. Our hope is grounded in trusting that God is still working, right now; that God loves this world, right now. God hasn’t failed me yet. I hope God never will.
Chris Clow is a campus minister and liturgical musician at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. When he isn’t composing music or begging college students to sing in the choir, he likes to play games of all sorts, watch his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, enjoy a good beer (or 2 or 3, depending on how the Cards fare that day), and spend time with his wife Emily and the ever growing number of pets in their house.