The Christians of the first century often referred to themselves as followers of “the Way.” They also called themselves “the Living.” The idea was analogous to the saying, “Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.” Among the social classes and religions of the day, Christians had a relentless, living hope that could never be stripped away.
What makes this name—“the Living”—incomprehensible, even ludicrous, to non-Christians was the fact that the early Church was so greatly persecuted. Despite the emotional, psychological, and physical threats they faced, their joy never ceased, and their hope could never be destroyed. While the world around them was consumed in materialistic ways and pleasure-driven lives, the early Christians hung on to Jesus’ redemptive love and personal contact with each of them through the power of the Holy Spirit. They were truly alive while others laughed at them and hung on to the world.
A major cause for this seemingly impossible foundation in hope is in Calvary and the empty tomb. Hope is not some empty phrase where one gambles that the future will turn out how we want it. Living out the call of discipleship is never blind nor is faith ever confined to what we can imagine. Hope is not a blind trust but rooted in the promise of Christ.
Our Faith ought to direct everything we do. Jesus’ life was a mission of “excess”—a desire to personify the eternal love of God for us. This abundant divine love enables us to love as Jesus himself loves us (see John 15:12). Many of us struggle with hope, even in ordinary times, when we are not facing a pandemic, financial insecurity, or social unrest. Now, more than ever, we must cling to hope. To do so, we must investigate what it means to be a person of relentless hope, a member of “the living” who exists as fully alive despite the surrounding details of life.
In his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI offers us some details about what hope is and what it does. The very title of the letter conveys the profound truth that “in hope we are saved.” Salvation, then, is wrapped up inside of hope: “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present” (no. 1). Hope is pivotal because of its relation to the present moment. Without hope, we stay adrift amidst the dark seas of doubt, depression, and despair.
When evil wins small battles in our lives, we have moved into the category of the walking dead. We blend in with the culture and the world around us because we exist as if God does not have the final victory. Members of “the Living” are not naive, nor are they merely wrapped up in wishful thinking. True Christian hope admits and brings attention to the fact that “there are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us: yes, this is what true ‘life’ is—this is what it should be like” (no. 11).
In these short instances, we are given a divine insight that shines forth from that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, from the empty tomb. Hope is the result of existing in the divine presence which is the eternal now. Keeping our perspective on eternal life is not an escape from this life; rather, it is a reorienting towards what is most true: Jesus Christ’s defeat of sin, evil, and death. Therefore, there is nothing that we cannot conquer in him.
According to Pope Benedict, eternity is not vague but is like “plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (no.12).
The seed of an authentic and immovable joy is hope—and hope is a condition in friendship when we know that God is with us, even though we cannot see him. Since God is a Trinity of Persons, we see that God himself is defined by relationship. Our move towards true life is only possible if we make our relationship with God our number one priority, no matter how difficult this might be. As the Holy Father says, “If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we ‘live’ (no. 27).
Today, we are invited to travel deeper into our faith and be among “the Living.” Doing so will not only change the world and bring us closer to Christ; it will give us a relentless hope which can never be taken away. Then we will experience what it means to say that only hope saves.