Well Facebook is good for something. Today it threw up one of those “here’s what you were doing last year” photos. And what was I doing one year ago last night? Coincidentally the same thing I was doing last night this year; hanging out with twenty or so blokes from church, in a big shed having a lamb on a spit. Oh, and praying together and reading Scripture. And being the Facebook junkie I am, the year is neatly bracketed by a photo of each event as my status update. Same shed, same blokes, same meal. Nothing much changes.
Except a lot has. Two of the blokes in the photo from last year, both seen chatting and having a drink, one of them working on carving the lamb, have received devastating cancer diagnoses. One an older man in his sixties, wife, kids, grandkids, the other a younger man on the cusp of life, early in a job, single, a fit footy player.
Our older bloke, a Christian since his youth, has just been told that the cancer that took his eye not nine months ago is now in his brain, is inoperable, and the treatment he is going to have is palliative. The other, younger, man has had a confronting, and life-threatening diagnosis after a routine check up. He found out this week. It’s rocked his world – and ours.
And what did we do last night having roast lamb in a big shed? We sat around crying, laughing, praising, praying, reading the Bible together, hearing from both these men, testifying to the grace of God in their lives. No denial, no anger, no illusions, just joy and grief together, all bound up in the one thing we have that no one else on the planet has, other than Jesus’ followers; a living hope! Those two men – one young, one older, sat there sharing their hope in Jesus with us. None of this “Well, that’s it, there is no God!” nonsense, but a sense of them playing out what they had been practicing for so many years.
It was a confronting evening. But a comforting one too. As traditional Christians sit in the midst of a culture that is increasingly antagonistic towards the gospel, the tendency is to highlight the major differences between the church and the world. A different sexual ethic, a commitment to revealed truth, a rejection of pluralism, these are often the things we placard about.
But last night showed me that the biggest difference is that we have a hope that goes beyond the grave. We can look at death and disease and brokenness for what it is – an enemy, but a defeated enemy. In the face of death we are not terrified. In the face of death we do not have to mask its awful reality with white goods, trips to Bali, or vague platitudes in funerals about being “flowers in God’s garden.”
I often hear those who don’t follow Jesus say that Christians either have their heads in their clouds, or are full of nonsensical rubbish. Well, I have been to enough funerals, have conducted enough funerals, to make this observation: the most realistic, sober-minded and clarifying funerals are those of Christians. The non-Christian funerals I attend, sadly, resort to a mystic, other-wordliness that did not define those who died, and certainly does not define those still alive in their everyday lives.
Hope is what shapes the Christian. Hope beyond the grave. A living hope. And hope shapes and transforms our view of sex, money, career, relationships, time, holidays, work, failure and everything else. We are a community of hope in an increasingly hopeless world. In an age that is turning against the church and the message of the gospel, or has outright rejected it, our defining feature is our hope that the resurrection of Jesus is the prototype of our own resurrections.
If you are in the habit of meeting with God’s people on a weekly basis, then do so this week, whatever your circumstances, for the sake of the hope that we have been given in Christ.