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What Is Hope?

An Easter message on Christ's prevailing power and love

By the Rev. Lauren Taylor, Whitworth Campus Pastor for Discipleship

The season of Lent lends itself well to the somber state of our world right now – global pandemic, war, environmental crises, racial upheaval, fractured politics. It sometimes seems like we live in a Good Friday world. Lament comes easy at the foot of the cross. But what happens when we flip the calendar page to Easter Sunday? How do we speak of joy and resurrection and new life in Christ when despair threatens to consume us on every side? How exactly do we celebrate Christian hope this year? 

We've been making our way through the book of Exodus in chapel this spring, and it has led me to wonder about Christian hope. Exodus, of course, is the story of Israel's deliverance out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Hope is intrinsically woven into this story of God promising to end Israel's suffering and deliver them into the land flowing with milk and honey. I'm hungry for these kinds of stories right now. But if I'm honest, I feel a little numb toward this idea of hope. In a world that can look so much like Good Friday, hope can seem naive. So the question I find myself asking this Easter season is how can we gather up the courage to hope? 

Artwork by Emily Zacek '22

In Exodus 14, after all the plagues and Moses' demands, Pharaoh relents, and Israel tentatively clings to God's promise of new life. It is the middle of the night when they make their grand exodus from Egypt and walk out from under slavery's grip. I can hear them almost tiptoeing. Their faith on day one of freedom feels fragile, in the shadow of hundreds of years of slavery. And then pharaoh changes his mind.   

Israel falls into despair, demanding to know why Moses brought them out of Egypt only to die by the Red Sea. I'm not sure I can blame them. Their one-dimensional logic is comforting to my less-than-faithful moments. The question, however, that I'm most curious about is not what Israel does, but what God does. Hearing the Israelites' faithlessness, Moses warns the people, "The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still," (Exodus 14:14). And at God's command, Moses wades into the Red Sea and boldly lifts his staff. In an incredible display of grandeur, the Lord parts the waters standing in the way of Israel's freedom. They walk across the sea on dry ground, and escape Pharaoh's army by miraculously walking between two giant walls of sea water until each person safely reaches the other side.

Here in Exodus this truth is already being grooved into our souls: God's power knows no limits. The God of Israel makes a way where there was no way. We see this again and again as we flip through the pages of the Bible. Israel chases this vision of the Promised Land through kings and temples and other nations, and they are reminded at every turn that God can act decisively in the face of impossible obstacles. This is simply who God is and what God does. The interesting thing to me, though, is that this utopian vision of the Promised Land that God casts for God's people here in Exodus never comes to fruition in the Bible. And it certainly has not come to fulfillment today. The Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven is still something for which we are earnestly praying and desperately seeking. And so how exactly do we celebrate hope when this promise seems to be stretching out, incomplete, for so long?  

The Rev. Esau McCaulley, Ph.D., a New Testament scholar and bestselling author, has spent a lot of time with this very question. McCaulley writes as an ordained Anglican priest and as an African American biblical scholar invested in black church life and history. In sitting with this question about hope, McCaulley reflects on God's ability in the Old Testament to save Israel even in the direst situations, and he connects this to the black church and our present circumstances. McCauley writes: 

"Similarly, in the black church tradition, the spirituals and hymns that look to a greater future have power precisely because they were written when we weren't yet free. Those songs were a prophecy, written in the blood of our foremothers and forefathers, declaring that God had a better future for us. Maybe not now, but someday… It seems, then, that [this year] is precisely the time to speak about hope rooted in God's promises. These promises are not about the American economy. God has made no guarantees in that regard. He has also not guaranteed that all of us will survive. We will not. What, then, has he promised? That not even the gates of hell will prevail over the church (Matthew 16:18)." [1]

Perhaps our Christian hope, then, is not that things will get better in the future. Maybe they will; maybe they won't. We might escape the chains of slavery, but then find ourselves wandering in the desert for 40 years.  

What I'm coming to realize this Easter season is that our hope is not grounded in some idea of a better future. Rather, the one who defeated Pharaoh has defeated the ultimate enemy – sin, death, and evil. Our Christian hope is grounded in the fact that no matter how bleak the day seems, we know for certain that the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God will win after all. We know how the story is going to end. I have learned from Rev. McCaulley that when I'm tempted to despair, I must then ask myself the most important question: Was the tomb empty? [2] Because if the tomb was empty, if Christ really did rise from the dead, then the world is a different sort of place. The future may get better, or it may get worse. But God's vision for this world will win in the end.  

This Easter, may we let this story of the empty tomb transform our imaginations, even if it feels foolish. The Promised Land seems far away. The enemy, though defeated, still wages its war. Yet Jesus calls us to put our faith in these words, even when we have a hard time feeling them: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Would we have the grace to be rooted in this Christian hope on Easter Sunday. Amen. 

[1] McCaulley, E. (2020, April 6). Not Even the Gates of a Hellish Pandemic Will Prevail Over God’s Church. Retrieved from Christianity Today:

[2] McCaulley, E. (2020, October 31). Esau McCaulley Interview. Retrieved from Jesus Creed: A Blog by Scot McNight in Christianity Today: