The death of hope

We simply cannot separate the paschal events from what is happening now in our world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who was executed by Hitler, criticised his fellow Christians for worshipping God on Sunday and killing Jews in the camps on Monday. They separated their faith from their relationship with others. ‘It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what they are’, he wrote from prison (July 18, 1944), ‘but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.’


‘Participation in the suffering of God.’ If we ever thought of God as standing outside the world and observing what is going on from a distance, we can surely be disabused of that now. God is in the world standing alongside all who are in agony. God was not an onlooker when South Africa went through its most traumatic years. He was there in the cells of the prisoners and on the streets of townships where life could end at any moment. And eventually after decades in prison and a whole human process of struggle was complete, Nelson Mandela stepped out into Freedom one January morning in 1991.

Not so in Russia. No one took Mandela’s life away while he was in prison but Russia’s equivalent, Alexei Navalny, was not allowed to serve out his long years in prison. He was killed one day in February this year. And now Russian people are saying, it was not just Navalny who was killed. Hope was too.

The death of hope is one of the most gut-wrenching images of what hell must be like. Dante wrote over the entrance of the gates of his Inferno: ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ This is the inferno which the Russian people are experiencing. It is horrible. A variation on the words could be, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Easter tells us that he hasn’t abandoned us. he is still there with us. No matter how dreadful our experience is, God is there at our side. It may not seem like it. It may not feel like it. But God is suffering when he sees his people suffering. He cannot stop the suffering. He cannot remove the tyrants of this world. That would be interfering with our freedom. We have to work it out – as the South Africans did, as the Russians will do. No one can stamp out freedom. In the 1940s the South African government tried to control the influx of Africans to the cities but there was almost a note of humour in Oriel Monongoaha’s account of the result: ‘The Government was like a man who has a cornfield which is invaded by birds. He chases the birds from one part of the field and they alight in another part … we squatters are the birds. The Government sends in its policemen to chase us away and we move off and occupy another spot.’

The same is happening in Russia. For ever Navalny who is killed, a hundred Navalnys are born. Hope cannot be killed. That is the message of Easter.  

30 March 2024 Easter night Ex 14:15ff Rm 6:3-11 Mk 16:1-8

Post published in: Faith

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