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            On Thursday, March 29, at roughly 12:30 pm, some relatively unknown Miami Marlins pitcher (if you watch baseball you will understand that nearly every Marlins player is relatively unknown) will throw the first pitch of the 2018 baseball season. After almost five months away, baseball, real baseball, is finally back.

The remarkable thing about Opening Day (and yes, it does deserve capital letters) is that all teams start out with the same record, and every fan has the same hope that this year will be their year. For the first game of the season, we put what we expect our teams to do aside, and believe that we will be the last team standing (I mean, in this century the Red Sox, the Cubs, and the Astros have won the World Series, if they can, any team can.) The poet, Alexander Pope (and yes, I do know more things than just sports), while not talking about Opening Day could have been, wrote these words:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blessed:”

            The poet was actually trying to explain the human condition and his need for God. He was offering us hope. Each man and woman is born with hope. Hope that there is something better out there, hope that there is someone who will love me unconditionally, hope that my life has a real purpose. Even Stephen King of countless horror books understood the need as he wrote in The Shawshank Redemption,” Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Artists, philosophers, theologians, and many of the rest of us understand, it is hope that keeps us from falling into a dark abyss that would be near impossible to escape. The human heart is consistently trying to find hope in a dark world.

            On Sunday, April 1, at roughly 10:55 we will begin our 2018 Easter service. It will be a great day full of joy and hope. We will see people join the church, take part in communion, and The Word of God will be opened and given to us. All of this is possible because of the Easter nearly 2,000 years ago.

            Can you imagine what that Sunday was like? I would be willing to bet that “hope [was not springing] eternal in the human breasts.” I would say that doubt and unbelief were the greatest emotions and feeling of the followers of Jesus. Three days earlier, Jesus was nailed to a cross and all hope seemed gone. Not only, was the followers hope vanishing, but they also feared for their lives. If they could kill Jesus, surely a few fishermen and tax collectors would not be hard to silence.

            An amazing thing about hope is that it manages to show up in the least expected places in the least expected ways. A word from a friend can bring hope. A song at just the right time and hope will explode. A book or article ignites hope. There are a thousand ways for hope to be delivered in our lives, but none as great as the message of hope that the angel delivered to the women who went to Jesus’ grave that Sunday morning, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? … He is not here, but He has been resurrected.” (Luke 24: 5-6 HCSB)

            The women did not just encounter an empty grave. They encountered messengers from heaven. They did not hear empty platitudes about just trying harder and being a better person. They heard the greatest message they could hear. The one who died for you is now alive. The sins you once bore are now gone. The punishment you deserved had been delivered to the only one who could fully bear it. He was not dead. He is still not dead. At the empty grave, hope does truly spring eternal.

            As a lifelong fan of the Atlanta Braves, I witnessed in the ‘90’s them start a streak of 14 straight years of being a playoff team. They even managed to win one World Series. During this time, Opening Day was easy. There was not a need for a lot of hope because you just knew they were going to be good. Unfortunately, the good run ended, and they have been pretty bad, the last few years. Now, Opening Day becomes a day of hope. Hope that they will get back to being the team they used to be.

            Maybe you feel this way in your life. At one time, you did not seem to need much hope. You just knew life was going to be fine. Unfortunately, life changes, good times end. Now is the time in your life you need hope the most. Here is the great news – hope is offered at the times you need it the most. The cross and the grave make sure of that. The hope you need to get you through the toughest times is offered. All you must do is accept it. Jesus literally died to give it to you.

MJ

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