Finding Hope in the Darkness

“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

In early 1980s the producers of Sesame Street faced a dilemma. Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, passed away, and the producers were faced with how to communicate the concept of death to the 10 million children (most of whom are under 6 years of age) who watched the show.

Child psychologists suggested they NOT say, “Mr. Hooper got sick and died,” because children get sick and they are not going to die. And the psychologists suggested they NOT say, “Mr. Hooper got old and died,” because little children think of their parents as being old. And the staff of Sesame Street decided to avoid religious issues and NOT say, “Mr. Hooper died and went to Heaven.” So the show’s producers decided to say just a few basics: He’s gone, he won’t be back, and he’ll be missed.

Courtesy of Sesame Workshop

They decided to use Big Bird to gently set the matter before the children. The show was aired on Thanksgiving Day so parents could watch it with their children. Big Bird came out and said he had a picture for Mr. Hooper and he couldn’t wait to see him. One of the cast said, “Big Bird, remember, we told you that Mr. Hooper died.” And Big Bird said, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” Then he said, “Well, I’ll give it to him when he comes back.” And one of the staff members put an arm around Big Bird and said, “Big Bird, Mr. Hooper isn’t coming back.” “Why not,” Big Bird asked innocently. “Big Bird, when people die, they don’t come back.”

When people die… they don’t come back.

Normally, that’s how it works, and it bothers a lot of folks.

Sigmund Freud famously said: “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably will ever be!”

Aristotle called death the thing to be feared most because “it appears to be the end of everything.”

Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that death “removes all meaning from life.”

And French philosopher Francois Rabelais (as he was dying) said: “I am going to the great Perhaps”.

When people die… they don’t come back.

But Easter reminds us that one Person came back from the dead …. JESUS!

In Luke 24:13-35 Jesus appears walking with two of His followers. They assumed He was dead and not coming back. Unknowingly, they carried on a conversation without knowing that He was actually Jesus. They lost hope when He died. But by the end of the road, they got their hope back.

What Easter says is that the risen Christ comes to you and me, not just as we look at a beautiful sunrise or sunset, not just as spring replaces winter, not just through the preaching and teaching of His Word, or as we gather to worship but Christ actually comes to us with his living power and his living presence. He comes to all the places in our lives where death has placed its icy grip, and brings life.

Easter hope becomes a reality when we say “Come to me, Lord Jesus. Draw me out of this death which I have called life and draw me into the fullness of life you came to give me. Come to me in all the circumstances of my life—when my hope has been crushed, when my routine is empty, when I am down and discouraged.” If you do that he will come and He will bring Hope.

Above all, it offers hope and possibility after a period of profound pain, loss and sorrow.

The COVID-19 crisis has delivered, along with its human and economic ravages, a season of wholesale soul-searching.

It has created an enforced period of stillness. It has encouraged contemplation. Not least of all, it has inspired an assessment of what’s vital and what’s not.

All around the world, as nations cope with the coronavirus that has killed tens of thousands and idled the global economy, people on their own, in their families, on streets and online, have been taking stock and seeking solace.

The confusion, isolation, and pain that Jesus felt were followed by His ultimate triumph. The Easter season is a reminder to all of us that, while we may never understand God’s plan, His way always leads to greater life, greater glory, and greater hope.

A shining example of living with hope is Victor Frankel, a former prisoner in a Nazi prison camp.

“As a long-time prisoner in bestial concentration camps he [Viktor Frankly] found himself stripped to naked existence. His father, mother, brother, and his wife died in camps or were sent to gas ovens, so that, excepting for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps.

How could he – every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination – how could he find life worth preserving?” 

In one of his darkest moments while digging in a cold icy trench, he writes:

“In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.

At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. ‘Et lux in tenebris lucent’–and the light shineth in the darkness.”

From one of His Counseling Sessions

“This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. ‘I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,’ she told me. ‘In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.’

Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, ‘This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.’ Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. ‘I often talk to this tree,’ she said to me.

I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. ‘Yes.’ What did it say to her? She answered, ‘It said to me, “I am here–I am here–I am life, eternal life.”  (“www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/frankl/frankl.html”).

Frankl’s approach is always to help people discover for themselves the meaning of their lives. He sees this striving for the meaning of our lives as the most basic human task. When we perceive life to be meaningless, life quickly becomes intolerable. However, when we are trying to live into the meaning of life, we can withstand a shocking amount of dehumanization – even a concentration camp. When in a concentration camp, finding meaning through work (point one above) is not an option. When facing unavoidable suffering (like concentration camps or chronic diseases) the key to a meaningful life needs to be found by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering (point three above). A positive attitude enables a person to endure suffering and disappointment as well as enhance enjoyment and satisfaction. A negative attitude intensifies pain and deepens disappointments; it undermines and finishes pleasure, happiness and satisfaction; it may even lead to depression or physical illness. A positive attitude means living with hope as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

Today, as you tackle the challenges in your life, whether it be pain, loss or even triumph, I pray that you have a renewed attitude, an attitude of hope, an attitude that everything will be alright, an attitude of Easter hope, wear the eyes of Easter as you approach that which you are working on.

With the eyes of Easter, we can find hope in human lives too – in the families grieving loss of loved ones, in the lives of women and children of Yemen, in the lives of people suffering from hunger, in those sick with Covid19. With Easter eyes, you can find hope in your own life if you want to. Savor Easter when you experience love again after the breakup of a relationship. Rejoice in Easter when you are forgiven for something you thought unforgiveable.

In a world where there is too much despair, fear, pettiness, violence, division and poverty, we disciples of the dawn must choose to bring hope. We know in our guts that there is something more – a more meaningful life, a more just and gentle world. We are left only to imagine that new life and new world and then share that dream with someone else.

Together, we meet the dawn with hope-filled hearts and ready hands and feet.

May God bless you and your families during this Easter season.

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