Harrowing Of Hell
April 14, 2024

A Home of Hope

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To watch the sermon click here.

As I walked into the Great Hall the other day I looked up and I saw the Epiphany coat of arms embossed over the door. There is a crown, then waves, at the bottom of the crest, at least to me, holding it all together, is an anchor.

The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol of hope, and so, as I passed under the crest, and over the threshold I stepped into a space that is, I pray, a home of hope; a place where the anchor is set, buried, deep, secure, grounded in the promises of our God. This is our home of hope, and I’m glad you’re here. The world needs what we offer: Jesus Resurrected; the God of hope.

Last Sunday Kelly Martin preached a super sermon about Thomas and Jesus; and Jesus’s wounds and the vulnerability they revealed; where Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand in his side and touch the open wounds in his hands.  Though broken, victimized, and hung on a cross; Hope prevails in that upper room where Jesus rejoined the disciples for a meal. The Resurrection of Jesus is the hope to which we are anchored.

Kelli’s sermon gave me cause to consider an earlier conversation between Thomas and Jesus (Jn14) at another meal that became the Last to Supper. Jesus is talking to the disciples about where he is going. And I quote: “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says; “Trust in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may also be.”

Thomas said to him: “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way.” Jesus said to him: “I’m the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me” (Jn 14:1-6) Those are words of hope, and this church is one of those dwelling places.

Now I know it is easy to hear Jesus’ words to Thomas and feel compelled to protest against a Christian claim of exclusivity. Resist the temptation. Instead remember this conversation with Thomas sits at the center of the Gospel of John.

And it is this Gospel that witnesses: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. And what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:1-4). All people. The Resurrection is a word of hope for all people.

And we all need a little hope right now. In fact, hope is in very short supply. The statistics are sobering. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published that 44% of US teens and adults are experiencing persistent feelings of hopelessness.

According to Psychology Today the persistent causes of hopelessness are multifaceted. For adults they include: climate change and its potential catastrophic impact on this planet.  There is angst about nuclear proliferation, complicated by conflicts around the world, then exacerbated by nationalism. There’s the pandemic, of course, that killed a million Americans, and fifteen million souls worldwide. And then there is the uncontrolled advancement of digital technology and what that means for privacy and community, magnified by the influence of generative artificial intelligence.

Then we take all those things, and roll them up and set them upon the hearts of our young people, our teens and young adults, and suddenly identity and purpose worm its way into the conversation, overwhelming them as they wonder… “Who am I? What is my place in this world? Will there even be a world for me…and does anyone care?” 

Then you take that sentiment and you put it on a screen, that with the flick of a thumb, you can scroll from heartbreak, to heartbreak, to heartbreak… alone and besieged. Hopelessness breeds isolation that is epidemic amongst our people – many of whom have forgotten, as if overcome with amnesia, that just around the corner is a home of hope waiting for them.

We are anchored to this dwelling place of hope, built by the hands of the carpenter, Jesus, the “Author of Life,” (Acts 3:15) the Word through whom all things came into being, a light to drive out the darkness. “Hope is being able to see light despite all the darkness.” Those are words written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, during the deepest days of Apartheid.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says, “Trust in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places,” and one of them is where we are sitting right now.

There’s a tether dangling here at Epiphany that we can grab on to, and pull, and as we pull we move forward toward the future, a future we can’t see, but can only sense, hinted at by the Resurrection. A future that remediates the wounds without erasing the memory.  For, as it says in the book of Hebrews, “Who hopes for what can be seen? We do not hope for what we see, we hope for what cannot be seen” (Heb 11:1).

In the Upper Room Jesus says it to Thomas like this: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

But what does this mean for us? What does it mean to be people of hope? Well, one thing it means is to be unreconciled to the suffering we see in front of us. Hope is a force that keeps us unreconciled to the misery of this present age. Hope is catalytic. Hope is the power that moves our muscles, motivated to pull the tether, hand over hand, towards a future that is better than things are right now. And when we pull hand over hand we drag this world away from selfishness, fear, division, waste and degradation towards the dwelling place of hope, the garden of Eden, towards the world that God designed it to be.

As we crest the threshold of this church, under the anchor, we arrive at a place dissatisfied with the present, and completely confident in the future. Resurrection is God’s assurance that all will be well.

Hope is anchored in God’s promise of ultimate restoration. That is what the Resurrection gives us a foretaste of, the promise of ultimate restoration, even in the midst of our present wounds. Thomas punctuates the point in the presence of the Resurrected Jesus with the proclamation: “My Lord and My God!” His proclamation is our proclamation. “My Lord and my God!”

It is the refrain that should echo through dwelling places of hope. And if you haven’t heard it here, I apologize and particularly to our young people for whom we have unwittingly obfuscated this message, it seems.

I apologize. Let us try again. Here are three things we need to say to you:

  • thank you for being here.
  • we care about you a great deal.
  • if you feel any sense of hopelessness in the world that we are leaving you we want to apologize for that.

And if you’ve given up on us, I don’t blame you. If you’ve given up on your teachers, politicians, business leaders, innovators, pastors, I can understand why. But don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on the Resurrected Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” He has made a dwelling place for you, anchored in the garden of Eden, in the world as God intends it to be.

And dangling on the other end of that anchor is a tether that we can grab onto. We can grab onto it right here, together. It is the source of salvation, the way we will ultimately encounter the restoration that God has in mind.

That said, we individually and even collectively do not have the capacity to achieve restoration by our own will alone: but through God, with God, by God as promised through the Resurrection, restoration will be achieved.

And that’s why this church exists, that’s why this church matters to us, to all of us; to us, particularly, who have children or grandchildren. That is why the Church matters as a place of restoration, a home of hope, where it is God’s way that we proclaim, and not the failed policies of our politicians or economic powers, but what God promises through the Resurrected Jesus, magnified by the wounds we put upon him. Hope doesn’t circumvent hardship, it transforms it, and transcends it.

Hope is active. Hope is the force that shapes present actions into future possibilities. Hope is catalytic. “Hope is being able to see light despite all the darkness.” And hope has a home here at Epiphany, our dwelling place, where we are anchored.

So, when we cross the threshold here, we take one step closer to the future that God promises; to a world restored to balance and equanimity, where all souls are equally honored because they are equally loved by God.

The world needs places of hope desperately. There are too many people who don’t know that there is a home of hope just around the corner.