About a year ago, I wrote a post discussing the relationship of our faith to the Church (“I believe in the holy catholic Church”). More recently, I wrote about the importance of loving the Church. It seemed fitting to touch on the third theological virtue, hope, and its relationship to the Church.
The New Testament intimately and organically connects Christ with his Church. Not only are they imaged as a groom and bride, but the Church is talked of as the very body of Christ and the place of God’s dwelling. If Christ is the hope of the world, the New Testament reminds us that the Church must also be an object of our hope.
Hoping in the Church is not a particularly popular stance. Most are probably inclined to the opposite – to despair in the Church and hold on to some hypothetical renewal of the Spirit that starts something brand new. But the Church is (and has been) the means of God bringing salvation through the proclamation and demonstration of the Good News to the world. As such, we cannot just dismiss it but must, despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, hope in it. God will not abandon his Church.
Hope is related to the Church in a second sense: the Church is not just the object of hope, but also its central locus. In the Book of Common Prayer, there is a line in petition to God, requesting that he “steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day.” While reading that line, I was struck by how natural the corporate language was “steel us”. Not only does God steel us, but he uses us to steel one another to hope.
Hope is always more powerful when experienced with someone else. Perhaps it is the hope that a certain member of the opposite sex has interest in us that gets fueled by a friend mentioning something they’d noticed. Or maybe it is the hope for a potential job that multiplies when someone mentions how qualified they feel we are. Hope is nourished by those around us.
The same is true with the Christian’s eschatological hope. It is in the context of worship and fellowship that we are reminded not just to look forward but how great our hope really is. A hope for a new creation that remains quietly within one’s own heart is bound to stagnate and grow dull.
So while faith and love are experienced most fully when practiced both inside and outside the Church, hope is an “insiders” experience (that then gets proclaimed – it is inwardly practiced, with an outward orientation). We spur one another on with excited reminders of what we are moving towards – seeing the face of God, living in shalom. Then we also remind ourselves that as members of the Church we must be involved in working towards that end because the Church, as Christ works through her, is the hope of the world.