By Rev. Dr. Erin Raffety
Lectionary reading for 4/4/2022: Psalm 20; Exodus 40:1-15; Hebrews 10:19-25
Selected passage for reflection: Hebrews 10:19-25
Hebrews 10:19-25 NRSV
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Not all that much is known about the writer or the circumstances of the book of Hebrews, but one thing scholars feel certain of is that the early Christians reading the letter were likely being persecuted for their faith so much so that they were tempted to give up on it. So, over and over throughout the book, the writer of Hebrews likens their experience to being in the wilderness, reminds them of the hope they have in Jesus, and urges them to persevere.
If you’re like me or the Christians this letter was written to, maybe your first instinct is to look for a way out when you hit upon hard times. I had a job prospect going into this year that had me wild with hope. When it didn’t pan out, I was not only disappointed, but I was left with the deflation and shame of having hoped for something that was not to be.
Hope is a fickle thing, isn’t it? Hope aflame is other-worldly, unruly, and outlandish, but hope squelched can make us feel so alone, small, and foolish. My first instinct when this job didn’t work out was to bury my hopes, alongside my faith, to retreat from love and the kinds of promises the author of Hebrews makes. But as I examined the smoke leftover from the fire of hope, as I bared my disappointment with trusted friends and family, I could see that part of the allure of the job was in its fantasy of running away from the pandemic, from uncertainty, from the challenges of my life in the here and now.
I’m humbled when I think of those early Christians, afraid for their very lives, reading these words of encouragement. With their deaths a real possibility, Jesus’ triumph over death was the only hope that mattered. Faith in that Jesus really meant something. And nurturing love in those days was an act of resistance against despair.
I don’t mean to romanticize these early Christians’ circumstances or falsely compare them to ours. We Christians in America don’t suffer persecution. But in these Coronavirus years, heavy with the threats of illness, death, and despair, we are often tempted, in our fear, insecurity, and anxiety, to manufacture our own faith, hope, and love. I think I was willing to cling to that job because it offered me a way out.
But Jesus’ way out is never an escape, rather an embrace of our human circumstances. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus can offer us hope, because it is Jesus who has known our pain in his flesh and blood. It is Jesus who offers us faith, because he loves us. It is Jesus who wants to be near to us in our time of greatest need: when we run toward Jesus, we run toward faith, hope, and love.
I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t still think about that job from time to time. But these days I also see Jesus offering me not so much a way out, but a way in. A way into being faithful in these circumstances, in these days. A way into learning how to love even when love seems near impossible. A way into a hope that doesn’t need me or you, my excellence or your benevolence, to keep it burning, but rather a hope that is everlasting. And bearing that kind of hope in Jesus, in the wilderness, makes all the difference.
Write down something that you’re worried about, struggling with, or even hoping for.
Now, reread the passage and meditate on what difference it makes for Jesus to offer you faith, hope, and love in those very present circumstances.
Trusting this, jot down some insights on how you might be called to live differently today.
God of abundance, help us in the wilderness not to run after faith, hope and love that are fickle and fleeting. Rather, help us to receive, in our very present circumstances, your faith, your hope, and your love. Amen.
About the Author
Rev. Dr. Erin Raffety is a Presbyterian pastor, a Cultural Anthropologist, and a Researcher at the Center of Theological Inquiry and Princeton Theological Seminary. She lives with her family in Lambertville, New Jersey, where she is a beginning bird watcher, a walker, a runner, and an advocate for disabled persons.