“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come....16 “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” John 16: 12-13; 16
I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. 19 The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters…. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8: 18-19; 22- 25
As an eighteen-year-old, Hugh Herr was already considered one of the best competitive rock climbers in the country. Caught in a blinding blizzard while on a climbing expedition, he strayed from his intended route and crossed a snow-covered stream, breaking through the ice into the water below. His feet were soaked and rapidly freezing: blinded by snow and exhausted, he built a rudimentary shelter. After four days, rescuers found him and his hiking companion under a spruce-bough lean-to, nearly dead from hypothermia and severe frostbite. Both Hugh’s legs had to be amputated just below the knees.
Five weeks after the amputations, with new artificial legs, Hugh climbed a steep trail near his home. Within a year, he’d learned to design and make himself new feet. For walking, he screwed in a fairly flexible, natural-shaped foot. He created feet for specific climbing conditions. For most climbing, he used a stiffer, narrower foot. To climb a rock wall with narrow crevices, he switched to a stiff foot with a rubber nub on the end that he could jam into the cracks. For ice climbing, he used a foot fitted with a neoprene bootee and crampons.
When asked by a reporter what it was like to climb now, as compared to the old days, he said, “now my calves don’t cramp.”
Somehow, with some grace of youth or some grace of God, this young man learned what it is to bear the hope when the day is dark. Hugh Herr went on to become the director of the Biomechatronics Group at MIT.
The scripture tells us how important it is to anchor ourselves in hope and how we are called to lean into the kind of grace and love that allows us to bear all things, believe all things and hope all things.
When Jesus spoke to his disciples about bearing things, as the Gospel of John describes it, the hour was growing near for his crucifixion and death, but also for his resurrection, appearances and ascension. Since the letter of John was written many years after these events, we may wonder whether when Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” he was talking about bearing the grief of his departure or the joy of his resurrection.
Yes, you heard me right: how do we bear resurrection hope in the midst of a world of suffering and pain? Suffering, death and sadness will visit us all. We will at some point be frustrated in our efforts for ourselves or others to be improved. We face the exhausting contest of the Gospel against the principalities and powers. What in us shall not give into despair, resignation or bitterness? What spark of grace can give us the gift of bearing the hope?
For some the question becomes, can I even have resurrection hope, and for others it is, well, don’t bother me with resurrection hope. But I believe that for every Christian committed to the way of Jesus, the issue of HOW we bear our hope is so very important.
The text tells us that Jesus announced the coming of the Advocate: what we believe is revealed in the movement of the Holy Spirit so powerfully present at Pentecost and in the ongoing faith journeys of the disciples and apostles. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of giving us resources through all those sufferings and character-building experiences that culminate in the testimony of Hope as Paul says in Romans.
But just how do we live it out? How do we stay up in a down world? How do we remain authentic in it when at any moment we may have the equivalent of our legs being severed?
Here’s another story about someone who wanted to climb a mountain:
A doctor I heard speak at a conference has worked with Native American Populations in the southwest for 30 years. From that experience he has learned many things about hope when things seem hopeless. He tells a story about his own life when he had several operations for a slipped disk in his back that sent excruciating pain down his legs, so severely that he could not walk.
Carl tried all kinds of scientific and nonscientific remedies, when finally; his surgeon suggested that maybe if Carl changed his lifestyle the pain would subside. So, Carl began a vigorous program to change his lifestyle. He did daily traction, hot tubs and swimming and the pain began to lessen. But his leg was still shriveled and so he began to try lifting weights with his leg. He started with a one-pound sandbag draped over his ankle and every night while watching the evening news he followed this program of lifting the weights. Eventually he could lift twenty pounds.
When he arrived at that goal, he decided to take the final test that would prove to him he was fully recovered, fully active and be a “whole” again. This final test was a rigorous climb up a steep mountain behind his house. On the appointed day, Carl began the climb. Almost immediately he stumbled and twisted his ankles on the rock-strewn path. After two hundred yards, the pain began. By a quarter of a mile, the pain is radiating down his leg. He keeps going, but by halfway up he knew he couldn’t make it to the top. The pain becomes so intense that his foot begins to drag and tears come to his eyes. He has to stop.
At the half-way mark is a flat ledge that overlooks the city. He has never stopped there before, never seen the view, never looked out from that point. He finds a boulder and sits down, and realizes that there is an older man already sitting near the same spot. Looking at Carl, the man sees the tears and dribbling nose and asks if he is okay. Carl says he is, and the man turns back to the view.
Still crying, Carl begins to mutter, “I can’t make it to the top; I can’t make it to the top.” After a few moments, the older man turns again to Carl and simply says, “Maybe this is it.”
Maybe this is it. Maybe this is it: maybe this is the top, the place where you can see farther than you’ve ever seen before, not some preconceived place where you think you have to be.
Maybe this is it, Jesus was saying to us: look and see farther than you’ve ever seen before right now, because if you have to be someplace other than where you are, you’ll miss the whole thing, you’ll never see the here and now. And Paul tells us, in that vision today is the hope of the consummation of love for all people, for all the creation.
Jesus only asks us to bear the hope of the resurrection today. Doing that would be seeing farther than we’ve ever seen before.
Is it good to want to get to the top of the mountain? You bet. But be prepared. You may have to do it on prosthetic legs and feet like Hugh. Or you may have to find out that the top of the mountain today, even if it is only the half way mark, is still the place of vision for you: you may have to bear the joy of the view despite your disappointments.
Can we do that: can we bear the joy of God’s view despite our disappointments? That is what Jesus keeps asking us.
And on God’s side? God loves us so much God has made us just a little less than God himself says the psalmist. God has crowned us with the glory of grace and the mindfulness of a love. God has gifted us with the ability to bear the hope. But we always get to choose.
A Rwandan proverb says: you can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside of you. We must choose. We must decide how we will bear the hope.