“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3
When Peter wrote these words, a full thirty years had passed since the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is difficult to imagine the contrast between what those who knew and followed Christ must have felt at initially seeing the risen Lord, and what their lived experience in the intervening years turned out to be.
Believers throughout Asia Minor, comprising mostly of modern-day Turkey, were in deep distress. They were being mistreated by unjust authorities (2:18), others were experiencing domestic violence and coercive control by unbelieving husbands; many were being maligned and ridiculed by non-Christians in their community, and all of them lived under the looming shadow of what was to become generations of devastating physical persecution, scattering the church throughout the ancient world (4:14).
Peter was no doubt profoundly moved by their faith, love and perseverance. But he also knew, from personal experience, that faithfulness can be fickle. His little letter almost invites the question: How then, can God’s people find the resource, the energy, the strength, and the right perspective, not just to endure, but to actually find what he calls ‘inexpressible joy’ (1:9) in the midst of such insecurity. Surely, the power must come from a source far greater than simply within?
English journalist, and brilliant satirist Malcom Muggeridge was, for much of his life, a dedicated atheist, socialist politician, and opponent of Christianity. He wrote some 30 books, including satiric novels and essays, often aimed at the Christian faith. From the 1950s he was a popular interviewer, panellist, and documentarian on British television, including a stint as editor of the satirical Punch magazine.
Later in life, however, Muggeridge found Christ, and wrote a profound and confronting two-volume autobiography, entitled Chronicles of Wasted Time, reflecting on all he had once stood for. It remains one of my favourite reads.
In a lecture, at the age of 73, to the university of Waterloo, Muggeridge wrote:
For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting; when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming; when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect; when in the shivering cold every last bundle of sticks has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it is then that Christ’s hand reaches out, sure and firm. Then Christ’s words bring their inexpressible comfort, then his light shines the brightest, abolishing the darkness forever. So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God himself, and to rest content, with Him. (Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, 1978).
I think Peter was saying much the same, to his ancient readers. For this was, and remains, the true meaning and source of hope we find in the resurrection of Jesus. Neither through hot-cross buns, nor playful easter egg hunts, does the joy of Easter Sunday lie. Rather, in the raw, visceral, fierce and life-transforming hope that emerges, inexorably, by the grace and power of God alone, from seasons in which things may well have died; but manifests in new life, and new beginnings.