For many people the street celebrations following the death of Nelson Mandela might have seemed odd. The singing and dancing were a bit exuberant for most of us in the western world. [Of course, I have never experienced a real “Irish Wake”.] During Mr. Mandela’s many hospitalizations over the past years, people gathered to pray and to beseech the heavens for the favor of allowing their beloved leader more time on earth. But once he passed, people took to the streets in true celebration of his life. They rejoiced in who he was and for all that he had done. They danced and sang in their belief that he had gone to the heavenly father who had created him, redeemed him, and guided him on his unique destiny in life. They rejoiced in HOPE that for him and them more good was to come.
On this Sunday, when we are called to REJOICE …. we remember that the basis of our rejoicing is our HOPE. We rejoice because we have hope of more to come. The stronger is our HOPE, the stronger should our rejoicing be. Without HOPE, it is hard to rejoice. Without HOPE, any semblance of rejoicing is shallow and quickly fades.
Quite simply and directly, we are challenged to ask ourselves, “How strong is my hope?” Are we really hopeful? Are we able to rejoice? Why would we hope?
Are the words of Isaiah [35: 1-6, 10] hollow for us? Do we believe that the desert and the parched land will exult? Will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the earth be cleared? I believe so — I hope so — and so I rejoice.
“this cannot be as good as it gets.”
I was talking with a friend of mine this week who happens to be an elected official. We talked about disappointments we see in the local educational system and the lack of parental involvement. Certainly, there is little reason to rejoice when reading educational research, the battles over Common Core, and seemingly little regard for the children who are most affected. And, so — we decided to renew our own efforts, but to also celebrate the cooperation of our local technical college and university —– the demolition of a 60-year-old housing “project” of 92 units and the building of 23, two-story duplexes in a renewed neighborhood. In other words, while not ignoring the challenges before us, we also wanted to rejoice in the progress that is being made.
When Jesus was asked if he was the one to come [Matthew 11: 2-11], he did not answer “yes” or “no”. Instead, he told them to report to John the Baptist what they had seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
Our reason to believe, our reason to have hope, our reason to rejoice will be based on what we see and hear.
Do we — does our Church — give to people, give to the world reason, evidence to hope? If not, we are failing in our mission as disciples of Jesus. If not, our Church is not living out its mission in the “name of Jesus”.
Pope Francis has been declared “Person of the Year” by Time magazine because people see in him reason to hope. People are SEEING him DO what he talks about. He gives hope that people can care, people can get along with those with whom they disagree, everyone has value.
Let us CHOOSE to rejoice in what is possible. Let us REJOICE in what we see ahead if we work together in the Spirit of Jesus. Let us REJOICE in that we are not where we use to be! Let us REJOICE in the fact that those who persevere also PREVAIL. Nelson Mandela certainly is proof of that. For 27 years he lived in the ignoble circumstance of prison on Robben Island. In his witness, people held on to hope. They saw him not giving up. Let us REJOICE in what we see, while knowing that all is not good around us.
With strong and firm hearts let us resolve that no one, no thing, no person, no circumstance will rob us of our joy. No one will keep us from claiming the joy that is ours. What we do is not an empty gesture — what we do renews us and renews others around us.
Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.