Easter is a time to consider hope. This year I’ve been reading a book by David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. He’s a wise Benedictine monk. In a chapter on hope, Steindl-Rast suggests considering a pet project, and your hopes related to that project. Then he says, imagine every one of those hopes going down the drain. “The hope that is left after all your hopes are gone – that is pure hope, rooted in the heart.” I find these words challenging and encouraging.
I often work with church leaders on letting go of the outcome – you can’t control the outcome, only yourself. Others will do what they do, wider forces are at work in society – there is so much out of our control. Steindl-Rast’s approach to hope is the ultimate letting go of the outcome. We are not dependent on a certain result for the reality of God’s love to be real. Clergy (including myself), no matter what we preach, too often act as if we have to earn our salvation: God will accept us if we have a certain number of people in church (and it better be more than last year), touch so many lives, work so many hours, answer so many texts and e-mails, preach increasingly dynamic sermons.
When I was a pastor, every Easter someone said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had this many people every Sunday?” I always felt the sting of it – I took those words into myself. “If I were a better pastor, we would have this many people every Sunday,” I thought on some level. Now, I’m all for reaching more people, for doing your best in worship, preaching, organization, and outreach. But there’s a difference between working hard and working compulsively. There’s a difference between serving God and others, and thinking God will only love you if you produce.
Thankfully, our ultimate hope does not depend on our results. There’s great spiritual freedom in claiming that hope, regardless of our current circumstances. What better time than Easter to remember this reality?
So, brothers and sisters, this Easter – receive God’s love. Have fun at the Easter services. Experience hope – this Sunday – and next!