Easter: Open Doors of ‘Comfortable Despair’

Post a Comment » Written on April 11th, 2006     
Filed under: News
WEST HARTFORD, CT (April 11, 2006) – Editor’s note: In preparation for Easter, Covenant Communications is sharing devotionals that originally appeared in local Covenant church newsletters and are being published here by permission. The following comes from pastor Tom Van Der Meid of Covenant Congregational Church.

By Tom Van Der Meid

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55, TNIV)

In the year 387 AD, an old preacher named John Chrysostom climbed into his pulpit in Antioch on Easter Sunday. It had been a very difficult year in Antioch. The Roman army had taken most of the men to fight distant wars in the north. The women and children were left to scavenge for food. The people despaired that their life would ever get better.

Chrysostom boldly told his congregation, “Your resignation assumes God is dead. Do not be so certain. He who embraced death has defeated its power over us. He who went down to hell, liberated every city held captive by hell’s despair. Christ is risen! Open the doors of your comfortable despair, that the great storms of hope may blow life into us again.”

Comfortable despair, said the old preacher – it’s an interesting phrase. I think it speaks well of our age. There seems to be a futility about our lives, a sense of despair that things will ever get better – and it’s a despair with which we can grow comfortable.

Will the conflict in Iraq ever end? Didn’t we learn anything from Vietnam? Will we always have a conflict with radical Islam? The national debt is out of control. Our health care system is a mess. The AIDS pandemic is growing. The evening news is so depressing, I can’t watch it anymore.

But you can’t insulate yourself from bad news. It is always there. I was talking just the other day with a man who lost his wife in a car accident last summer. He was driving along Route 185 on a rainy day and a large pickup truck hydroplaned across the road and hit his car head on. He was saved by the air bag, but his wife in the passenger seat was critically injured. He held her in his arms as she died.

How do you deal with that? Without the hope that Christ brings us, many people don’t deal with it well. They drown themselves in drink or drugs. They become bitter and angry and filled with despair. They try to escape the pain, grief, and loneliness through all kinds of distractions and pleasures.

We believe in the reality of death for we have all experienced it. We’ve buried too many loved ones, too many relationships and dreams, to deny that death is real. It’s the resurrection that seems hard to believe.

Paul tells us that after Easter, it is exactly backwards. It is the resurrection that is real and death that we ought to be doubting. Jesus did not come back from the dead just to regain his own life, but to defeat the power of death and despair over all of us. In fact, despair really is a sin. It is claiming to have more faith in death than in Jesus. Fortunately this man who lost his wife so tragically is a believer and he hasn’t given in to despair. But let’s make no mistake about it. We can easily become comfortable in our despair. Futility can be the normative way for us to see our world and our own problems. It’s fairly easy to lose hope and settle for the way things are.

The resurrection is God’s great storm of hope blowing life into this world. It is the promise that because of Christ’s great victory over death, sin and the devil, we can take heart. Life will get better because our great God controls the future and in his time and in his way, he will bless us!

Let’s do what Chrysostom recommended so long ago. Let’s open the doors of our comfortable despair, that the great storms of hope may blow life into us again. It is the great, good news of Easter. What we need to do is make it our great, good news.

If we do so, death, futility, and despair will lose its sting and we will know the kind of hope that will forever bless and transform our lives.

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