Hope Grammar

At a recent panel discussion, I got to hear four men nearing retirement reflect back on their lives.  They all came of age in the 1960s, so they couldn’t tell their stories without mentioning the anti-war protests, marches for racial equality, community organizing for social justice.  One guy even dropped out of graduate school to study “alternative education” in Mexico, only to return to the States and got a job as a factory worker with hopes of radicalizing the labor force.

What struck me first about these stories was the utter idealism of their generation.  They believed things could change; and things did change. But there was another theme that ran through the room that night.  Failure. Dashed hopes. The MLK and RFK assassinations. Protracted war and countless killed in Vietnam.  They also told of troubled marriages, lost jobs, and addiction.

 The hopes that fueled an entire generation of activism and the got these men out of bed in the morning were speckled with moments of despair and pain.  But they had hoped for so much.

I struggle to take that kind of hope very seriously.  As a child of the 80s who grew up with Reagan, Thatcher and unrestrained capitalism, it’s been quite evident to me that we were not living in the Age of Aquarius.  And given the last 6 years of Tea Party obstructionism, my generation’s difficulty with putting much hope in hope seems apropos.

Hope doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us. We’re stuck with Frank Underwood.

 In the biblical story we’ll read on Sunday, we get a glimpse of two disciples in the days after Jesus’ death.  They were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus with solemn faces as they recounted the death of their political hopes. They had hoped that Jesus would be the one to liberate Israel from Roman domination. And yet with their leader dead and their movement scattered, they could only say in Luke 24:21: “We had hoped …”

 I pause at this moment in the story because I don’t think I’m the only one lacking much hope in hope these days.  Like the disciple, I talk about hope in the past tense – something my parents did in the sixties.

 But the irony of this story is that the disciple who confessed his past tense (actually its imperfect tense) hope didn’t know the work that God was up to in their midst.  Even as they lamented the death of hope, hope had been given new life.  The leader whom they saw tortured and killed had been raised.  The movement they thought had ended was just beginning.

The truth is that we don’t know what God is up to in our midst either.  And while I don’t think that means we should be naïve, I do think it means that we can hope for a present tense hope.