Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
“3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
“Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom.”
During my mission trip to Mexico with the Wesley Foundation this past summer I kept a daily journal documenting the places we visited, the people we met, and the things I was being taught. Near the end of the trip there’s an entry that, besides the date, contains only one word:
I’m not certain what exactly had happened this day to prompt my meditation on this word. It is true though that if I could choose one word to describe our mission to Mexico it would be “hopeful.”
In the months leading to the mission I had been confronted by questions and doubts that, until then, I had not experienced, at least not to the extent that I was now experiencing them - questions of my purpose, of the existence of God, of His love for me. As far as I could tell, these questions had come from exhaustion from what I can only describe as what I perceived to be lack of passion or at the very least a lack of joy. I had begun to become dissatisfied by what I felt was merely a trust of the faith of others. Despite these questions, I was advised to continue in the act of trusting. To hope.
So I went to Mexico.
In each location during our four-week mission, we served alongside ministers of the Anglican Church of Mexico. I saw these men and women serve in beautiful ways, especially in the giving of themselves, in poverty of spirit, to the straightforward preaching of the Gospel, trusting that the Lord would take their offering and use it to gather people to Himself. These ministers - both those officially appointed by the Anglican Church as well as their parishioners, who showed us immediate and unconditional love and hospitality - invited us into the understanding that we have nothing more and nothing less to offer than the love of Christ. Many of them had little to give but what they had, they gave without reservation. Many were struggling in very real, very painful ways, and yet were dying to themselves and stepping out in obedience daily. These ministers reminded us through their humility and love of their of the joy of proclaiming the Gospel - joy that had us dancing in the rain and laughing with strangers and singing in the streets.
In the church services we participated in, we were invited to further lose ourselves by joining our voices in the words of the Book of Common Prayer. These words, though spoken in Spanish, were familiar to me by my family’s occasional attendance in Episcopal churches throughout my childhood and in the Wesley Foundation’s weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Theoretically, the importance of liturgy in its transcendence of tongue and nation and time has always made sense to me but it was not until I was standing beside these believers, in a place I had never been, stumbling over words in language that I did not know, that this transcendence was made real to me. It was there, in the familiar rhythm of the Holy Eucharist Rite Two, that the Holy Spirit showed me that it is in losing myself, in losing my voice to the crowd, that I am united to the Body of Christ.
I was reminded that to know that I am loved by Jesus is to be reminded weekly and daily of His body and blood - to admit my weakness and to rely wholly on the grace of Jesus, manifested in the sacraments. To know Jesus is not to merely know about Him but to be caught up in the rhythm of the celebration of His sacrifice for us that hems us in through hope with our brothers and sisters - co-heirs and co-laborers - and binds us to the grace and kindness that caused us to hope in the first place. I found that what I had seen as “merely” trust was really the beginning and the end of my faith. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, it is because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses that we are able to throw off everything that hinders us and run with endurance the race before us. If the Eucharist teaches us to hope, it is because it assures us, when we are most unsure, that we are members of a mystical body of believers.
Often hope seems like a bittersweet word to me - a word of future good, implying present suffering. I think that in many ways it is this but it is also more than this. In Mexico, I was reminded of a living hope. I was taught to hope, not in what I may one day feel or for a salvation that I may one day achieve but for a good inheritance that I have already been given. An inheritance that I do not earn but that was in fact given to me at the very moment I felt I deserved or even understood it the least. An inheritance that I do not receive alone but that I receive with the multitude of saints across the world and throughout time, the company of the blessed, the poor in spirit, who proclaim that they are very members incorporate in the mystical body of God’s Son and also heirs, through hope, of His everlasting kingdom.
I will forget these things, no doubt. I will feel lost. I will wander. I will question why I haven’t yet moved passed my brokenness or doubts. But Jesus does not tell us to figure everything out before coming to Him - instead, He gives us hope. He tells us to ask, trusting that He will answer. He tells us to lose ourselves and follow Him because it is in losing ourselves that we are found and it is through hope that He calls us heirs and invites us into the joy of our salvation. He calls each of us to do this individually, but when we do we will look around to see that there are others, too, who hope with us and sometimes even for us.