The Triumph of Hope, The Triumph of Love
Bishop Tutu, a theologian in his own right, knew well that the reality of the triumph of hope and love was the good news that overcomes violence, oppression, dehumanization, and death.” The struggle in South Africa stands as a prophetic invitation to catch the redemptive vision of God for the world in all societies. This is particularly relevant for us in America. We are all too familiar with the increasing crisis of hope and love being threatened by greed, violence, and fear; one has to look no further than news headlines to see that. This is not just true of our world but also true of the church.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right to lament that much of American Christianity often serves to “crystallize, conserve and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.” It is to our shame that in our diseased imagination we, too, often embody the reign of the American Empire rather than the reign of God’s Kingdom. The Rev. Rich Villodas was right to conclude that the biggest obstacle to the Christian witness in America is not secularism but “a Christianity unashamedly shaped by the flag, the gun, and the dollar.” Our world, much like the South African world of Tutu, is rolling in darkness. The question remains for us: do we see the vision Bishop Tutu saw? If so, we would learn from him that hope and love triumphs through remembrance and struggle.
Hope and Love Triumph Through Remembrance
“We are not hopeless, we remember,” writes theologian Chris Green. If any words describe Tutu’s vision it is these words. At Biko’s funeral, Tutu reminded the people that no matter what, through grief and tears, they must remember. He was not calling them to some general memory. But he was recalling them to the memory of Jesus Christ who “had come preaching the good news of God’s love.” The triumph of hope and love is not in the remembering of a Principle but that of a Person. The coming of Hope is indeed the coming of Love in Jesus. This was no pie-in-the-sky consolation, life had been too real for that. No, this was a life-giving affirmation.
For Tutu, the God who created the world was the same God who came to the world in Christ to love the world. The Jesus he read about in the gospel “was no neutral sitter on the fence” but embodied what theologian M. Shawn Copeland called solidaristic compassion. To Copeland, such a vision of Christ’s life and ministry, death, and resurrection was a “dangerous memory.” It is a means by which believers are to embody this vision of Jesus in the world by entering into solidarity with afflicted humanity and creation in its groaning. Jesus was not just God in the world but God in the world for others.
Hope and Love triumphs not only through remembrance of Jesus but through struggling with Jesus between the world as it is and the world as it should be.
To hold the memory of Jesus before us is also to hold the good news of his liberating and reconciling work in his life and ministry, death, and resurrection. If the triumph of hope and love in Christ creates a new spirit of solidarity, it also creates radical discipleship as an expression of cruciform love. Tutu took very seriously that identification with Christ means the performance of this memory by carrying on the work of Christ in the world. Those who would catch this vision could no longer put up with reality as it is, one bent on domination, violence, unforgiveness, and a disregard for life. But the memory of this triumph of hope and love struggles against it.
Hope and Love Triumphs Through Struggle
Hope and Love triumphs not only through remembrance of Jesus but through struggling with Jesus between the world as it is and the world as it should be. Tutu wrote that Black and White people together, for the sake of their children and nation, must “dedicate ourselves anew to the struggle for the liberation of our beloved land South Africa.”
It was the great Protestant reformer John Calvin who wrote that “it is impossible for the judge of the world not to help the oppressed and afflicted when they are undeservedly mistreated, and especially when they implore his assistance.” The powers have lost, Tutu declared, “because they are immoral and our God, the God of the Exodus…is a God of justice and liberation and goodness.” Jesus knew about struggles, abandonment, oppression, loss, and hurt. But Jesus also got involved and was, as Fannie Lou Hamer would say, “out where it was happening.” He was the man working to redeem, restore, heal, liberate, reconcile, protect, empower, and love others.
Steve Biko’s blood was indeed crying out from the South African ground. God had heard his cry. To forget the care of God and the work of Christ was to lose hope and surrender victory to the powers that be. During the struggle against apartheid, keeping hope alive was of the utmost importance. Tutu, as an admirer of the Rev. Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, knew that freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. It is “won by a struggle against suffering.” One must witness to a violent world through struggle and taking risks for justice, love, and freedom. To struggle was to be zealous for the redemptive purposes of God in the world. It is hope and love in action. A hope and love that, like Jesus, would go to any lengths to preserve and create community, not simply in the church but in God’s world.
And at some point, one would see that one would be wounded as the Crucified Christ was wounded. Indeed, a South African man once told the imaginative story of a Christian finally meeting Jesus. He imagined Jesus asking the Christian, “Where are your wounds?” The Christian would reply, “I have no wounds. I have kept myself clean.” And Jesus would ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?” In the midst of this fictitious conversation lies a truth: to remember Jesus is to struggle with Jesus, and to struggle with Jesus is to know that “in spite of all, overwhelming victory is ours through him who loves us.”
In their worlds and ours, we never fail to need those who are transfigured from worrying warriors to wounded healers. To be a wounded healer is to stand in the world as a minister of reconciliation, committed to making the compassion of God for — which is most visible in Jesus Christ — credible in our own world. Desmond Tutu caught that vision. Remembrance. Struggle. What could be possible for us here in America if we caught this vision?
Keep hope and love alive, my sisters and brothers, keep hope and love alive!