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Hope in Pandemic Times

Hope in Pandemic Times—1 Peter 3: 13-17 

May 17, 2020-6th Sunday of Easter

Hope is a funny thing.  What brings hope to one person can come across as threatening to someone else.  Perhaps we’ve gotten a sense of this with some of the tentative steps that Ontario is taking to re-open and some of the bolder and some would say reckless steps to do the same in the United States.  For some hope for economic well-being is a threat to health and for others hope for health is a threat to economic well-being.

The community of 1 Peter seems to know all about this phenomenon.  First Peter, whose author is unknown, is a letter written for a community of early Christians that is feeling some pressure from its neighbours because of the way they are leading their lives.  We don’t know the specifics, the letter doesn’t tell us, but we do know some general characteristics of the societies of the time that rubbed up against Christian ways. 

Hierarchy and patriarchy defined Rome and it’s provinces; it was a top down society ruled by men, one where everyone had their place and their role from birth to death.  Male heads of household were at the top of the social pyramid and female slaves were at the bottom.  Christianity challenged all this.  The belief that Jesus came for all was lived out.  Women were leaders in the church, slaves worshipped with slave masters as equals.  Interactions were happening between people in Christian worship that were simply not permitted in other areas of society.  This hope of new life in Jesus, the transformation of social relationships based on love threatened those who benefitted from the status quo.

As I thought about the relevance of this for our pandemic times one image popped into head almost right away.  I’m sure you’ve seen it.  It’s a picture of a nurse in scrubs, hair up in a ponytail, mask on, standing silently, arms crossed, in front of the Arizona state legislature confronting protesters who are unmasked and not respecting physical distancing guidelines.  Protesters demanding the resumption of regular economic activity.  To me she represented hope.  To the protesters and others she was a threat.  One state Senator accused her of being an actor hired to defend “government over reach”.[1]  That took guts on Lauren Leander’s part, to stand there in front of hostile people to proclaim a message of hope. 

It’s the kind of courage needed by that community to whom the letter of 1 Peter was written.  The author begins with words of comfort and instruction: ‘who is going to do a thing to you if you do what is good?  But, even if you do suffer for doing the right thing, you are supremely blessed.  Don’t let yourselves be swayed by public opinion and the false idols others worship, but in your hearts let the way of Jesus rule as the way to God.  In this way, you will always be ready to respond to anyone who demands from you an answer for the way you live, for the hope that fuels you.’  “Be ready to give an accounting for the hope that is in you.”

“Be ready to give an accounting for the hope that is in you.”  As Leander says of her actions, “This isn’t about politics, choosing sides, this virus does not discriminate at all,” she said. “It’s taking lives from one end of the spectrum to another. I know it’s wishful thinking but I just would love if we just had that common ground with fighting this virus.”[2] Lauren Leander’s hope is not a hope explicitly tied to Christian faith, but similarly it is a hope tied to something larger, more expansive than just herself—love and the understanding of our vulnerable human inter-connectedness and inter-dependence.  Leander stood there and gave an accounting of the hope that was in her, a hope that love can see us through this time.

It’s something that we are increasingly being called upon to do.  I have been disturbed by images of protesters in Michigan carrying semi-automatic rifles in front of and inside their legislature, saying threatening things about Gretchen Whitmer the female Governor.  John Pavlovitz a prominent American Pastor and activist had this to say about those images, “Black people don’t get to do this.  Muslims don’t get to do this.
Latinos don’t get to do this.  People who don’t look like this don’t get to do this… Only white people get to do this.  This violence is a singular privilege afforded to caucasian men in America… What I hope and pray, is that more white people, especially those who claim to be Christian, will also stand to reject the supremacy and racism that yields such willful homegrown terrorism; that we will use the unearned currency of our privilege to declare this violence un-American and inhuman and unacceptable.”[3]  Be prepared to give an accounting of the hope that is in you.  Even when it is threatening to those who hold power.  We’re not immune in Canada to the ugliness of racism in an environment of fear.  We’re hearing more during this Asian Heritage Month how Asian Canadians, especially women, fear being out in public.  We heard about a particularly vicious attack on someone who stood up to a racist taunter on a Vancouver bus this past week.  Be prepared to give an accounting for the hope that is in you. 

Hope is an abiding presence that drives us out into the world to act in accordance with God’s future, a future rooted in love, even if that future brings us into conflict with the society around us.  We act out of an inner necessity, in the same way that roses flower.  The rose doesn’t ask why either, or what for—they simply bloom.  The same is true of life lived out of the abiding hope that faith places in us.[4]

Hope abides in all those who surrender to love, it is not a willful act on our part.  For those of us on the Christian journey we might say that hope abides for all those who put Jesus first in our hearts as the way to God, as the way that we experience the holy and the sacred in our lives and in our world.  The Christian writer Anne Lamott puts it this way, “Hope is not about proving anything.  It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak b.s. anyone can throw at us.”[5]  May we individually and as a society allow hope to threaten our fears and our egos that we might be a blessing to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world, especially the most vulnerable in all those settings, as we live into this pandemic time.  May it be so.

[1]  Alisha Ebrahimji, Meet the ICU nurse who silently stood in protest at a rally to reopen Arizona, April 24, 2020,

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Pavlovitz, The White Privilege to Terrorize, May 1, 2020

[4] Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Fortress Press, 1997, p. 40.

[5] Anne Lamott, from her book  Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith, found at