Death, Hope & Planning for Resurrection
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
There is nothing more challenging in my faith than reconciling the suffering I see, the suffering I experience. I don’t understand why some of us to get cancer. I don’t understand why fires or earthquakes or hurricanes kill people and destroy homes. I don’t understand why some people have to live in the hell that is severe schizophrenia. Why would a loving, powerful God allow these things to happen?
Our scriptures have many and varied and sometimes conflicting explanations as to why these things happen. Some blame the victim: you must have done something wrong to deserve your suffering. Some verses admit it’s a mystery: for God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. And some describe a God who is suffering with us: “Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people.”
Honestly, I don’t think there will ever be a clear, satisfying explanation for the suffering in this world. And if there ever is, will there still be a need for faith? It’s a big question.
But I’m not sure if it’s the question we need to be asking, because in the end it’s just an intellectual exercise. Suffering exists whether we can explain it or not. What matters is how we respond to it, how our faith moves us to respond to it.
The prophet Jeremiah lived during a period of intense suffering for his people. Babylon conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and Judah, and the conquerors carried off a huge number of Judah’s people to Babylon. These exiles were torn away from their neighbors, their homes, indeed their God whom they believed dwelled in the temple at Jerusalem. They were essentially hostages forced to build a new life in a foreign and hostile land.
This, of course, isn’t a new theme in the our Bible. The Israelites lived in a foreign and hostile wilderness for 40 years. In the New Testament, the Jews’ own homeland became a foreign and hostile place because of Roman occupation.
The wilderness, it seems, is a place we just can’t avoid. We’ve all been there. A lot of us might be there now—maybe some of us further in the thicket than others. Maybe some of us are feeling exiled from a life that was once home, thrust into the discomfort of the unknown. Because we lost someone. Because our bodies aren’t working the way they used to. Because we have been rejected for what we look like, how old we are, or how we love.
Nobody likes living in the wilderness. The exiles from Jerusalem didn’t like living in Babylon. They wanted to leave as soon as possible. Get me out of this wilderness and back to the comfort of my old life.
And there were prophets who stroked that desire, who promised them that God would deliver them very soon, that their stay in Babylon would be short. The exiles ate it up. It’s exactly what they wanted to hear. They kept their bags packed and they slept in their clothes, keeping their shoes beside the bed, ready to get out of there at a moment’s notice.
And listen, I get it. The first stage of grief is denial. They preferred soothing words to the truth. They mistook optimism for hope.
Jeremiah is kind of a downer. He was always telling everyone how bad things are and how bad things would get. And let’s be real, he wasn’t wrong. In his lifetime, he saw the kingdom of Judah thrive under King Josiah and then collapse with the Babylonian conquest.
In today’s scripture, Jeremiah invites us to embrace the hardest thing: authentic hope.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”
Stay in the wilderness, he says. Make your home in the place of exile. Explore it. Find the beautiful places there. Eat foods, smell flowers you would have never found in Judah, in the familiar place. Learn new languages. Create new family. Discover new places inside yourself.
Because hope isn’t blind optimism pointing us towards easy fixes or a quick trip back to the land of comfort. Hope is about living with joy even in the face of suffering. Hope is about cultivating strength and wisdom. Hope is the act of preparing for resurrection.
In The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr makes a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Jesus is the teacher through which we learned how to treat our neighbor, through whom we saw the practice of perfect grace. Jesus joined us in this life, but he also joined us in death, which is just as important. He knew what it was to suffer. He knew what it was like to lose a best friend. He knew what it was like to be condemned. He knew he was going to die. He told his disciples over and over. And we all know how he despaired in the garden at Gethsemane. He begged God to change the situation. But as he prayed, he let go. Not my will, but your will, God.
Jesus let go into the hardest thing: authentic hope. And he began to prepare for resurrection, even though he knew it meant death first.
While Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, Christ is resurrection. Through Christ, death is not the end. In Christ, the hope that Jesus embodied in this world is broken open, God’s grace spilling out and covering us, calling us into our own authentic hope, despite death.
And I’m not just talking capital-D Death. I’m talking about the little deaths we experience throughout our lives, the deep moments of suffering and loss caused by change. The times of exile from our homes, from the places we thought we belonged.
Jeremiah said to the exiles: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
In these moments of suffering, death, and exile, Christ invites us into resurrection life. This means moving out of despair and into curiosity—about our lives and the lives of others. It means intentionally looking for God and grace in places we wouldn’t expect to find them. It means looking for hope in ways that you can’t quite imagine—hope that moves beyond individual comfort and lights up the whole world.
How is God calling you into resurrection today?