“[W]e had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . . and . . . it is now the third day since these things took place.”
I think weddings are among the most hopeful liturgies we perform in the church, so I find it almost disappointing that the word “hope” never appears in our Episcopal wedding service. You might hear it in one or more of the chosen bible readings at a wedding, but otherwise it’s not in the liturgy at all.
That’s on my mind tonight for two reasons: first, I want to talk about a theology of hope because of the disciples’ statement to Jesus with which I began and, second, because 43 years ago today my wife Evelyn and I got married in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Whenever I say that, she will often interrupt me and add “in a large church wedding;” she doesn’t want anyone to think we were married in a sleazy casino chapel by an Elvis impersonator. Nope, big church wedding with a bishop! So how do we celebrate? Big church Evensong with a wonderful choir, of course. Happy Anniversary, dear!
So, turning to the story of Cleopas and his companion, who I think was probably his wife and is likely to be the one talking with Jesus . . . . “We had hoped . . .” The Greek here is helpidzomen, the imperfect tense of the verb elpidzo. The imperfect tense is interesting in that it doesn’t indicate that the action which had been done ever ended; in this case, it doesn’t say that they had stopped hoping.
As Richard Swanson, Professor of Classics at Augustana College, puts it, “Is this action still going on? Or were the efforts, despite repeated attempts, finally abandoned? The [imperfect] tense doesn’t tell you, at least not so that the matter is fully settled.”
It’s a sort of wistful verb tense. The Irish language has a similar tense called “the past habitual” which is often translated as “we used to . . . .” Think about the times you’ve used that phrasing, “We used to . . . .” — there’s a sort of implied “And we still do,” or at least “And I wish we still did.” The action of the verb isn’t quite over; it’s not completed. The Greek imperfect tense can, I think, be understood the same way. “We used to hope . . . and we still do.” We make choices and we hope.
This is my theology of hope: it never ends. Hope may seem to be unfulfilled; hope may be disappointed; hope may be frustrated; but hope never dies. I love the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” in which there is this incredibly poignant line: “Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chast’ning rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died . . . .” We all know exactly what the poet, James Wheldon Johnson, is saying about the African-American experience of slavery, emancipation, and the fight for equality in this county.
As poetry, I love this line; as theology, I think it’s completely wrong, and the rest of the hymn bears that out. If that hope had not been born, it that hope had died, if that hope – unfulfilled, disappointed, and frustrated as it may have been and may still be – if that hope had not lived on how could those weary feet have kept treading the path to that place “where the white gleam of [their] bright star is cast.” Hope does not end. Hope never dies.
And here’s the thing . . . not only do I believe that hope doesn’t die, I actually believe that hope is always fulfilled. We make our choices and we hope. We may not see it now in this reality, in this universe, but in the infinite worlds of God every hope is realized.
What do I mean by that phrase “the infinite worlds of God”? Well, I supposed we could go down the rabbit hole of quantum mechanics, or string theory, or inflationary cosmology, but I suspect many of you have seen or at least heard of this year’s best picture Oscar winner which is based on the idea of the multiverse, or perhaps you’ve read Brian Greene’s or Neil de Grasse Tyson’s popular physics books, or fiction like “The Long Earth” or “His Dark Materials” or “Nine Princes in Amber.” The multiverse is everywhere. It’s the idea that there are multiple universes, sometimes referred to as “timelines” or “alternate histories,” running parallel to each other, in which every possible outcome of every action is real. If something isn’t real here, it’s real over there.
Now I suppose a cosmology that seems to say “nothing really matters because all possibilities are the same” could encourage some sort of nihilistic dread. After all, it kind of blows predestination and the idea that “God has a plan” all to Hell, doesn’t it? It’s been suggested by one contemporary theologian that “the encounter of the human soul with the nonlinear, atemporal infinite” presented by the multiverse is “a wild, nauseating churn” that ought to produce deep existential despair. But, the fact is, I believe the multiverse hypothesis is the reason for believing in the enduring nature of hope. As scripture affirms, “from [God] and through [God] and to [God] are all things.” All things! That’s the multiverse!
In the multiverse the outcome of any action or event is not singular. Rather, all potential outcomes are not only possible but probable, and not only probable but actual; every outcome really occurs in one or more of the alternate timelines. So, although our hopes may be frustrated in this reality, they will have been fulfilled in another; although hope may seem to be dead in this universe, it is very much alive in an alternate. As Jesus says in both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels, “God all things are possible.” And, it seems to me, that that wistful imperfect verb tense, that sense that “we used to hope … and we still do,” grasps that reality.
Why? Because I don’t believe that God is “up there” making all the trains run on time to a predetermined destination. Instead, God is “out there” inviting all of creation, all of the universes to God’s ultimate end, what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “the Omega Point.” As science and mathematics has enlarged our understanding of creation, of the multiverse, so must our understanding of God expand as well. To quote Teilhard, “The world must have a God: but our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended.”
The many-worlds concept tells us that all the possible timelines of the multiverse are diverging; our faith tells us God is inviting and gathering all the many universes to converge. Theologian John Haught says, “God is not up above but rather up ahead. . . . [E]verything that happens in the universe is anticipatory. The world rests on the future. And one could say that God is the one who has future in His very essence.” This must be true not just of this universe, but of all the universes so that, in the end, all of the timelines, all of the realities will converge at the Omega Point, at and in God.
Evelyn and I made our choice. We got married 43 years ago today in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a big church wedding, and I know there were lots of hopes held by a lot of people on that day, as there are at every wedding. Some of those hopes were fulfilled; some we came close to meeting; and some, I know, have been frustrated. Such is life in this universe. Perhaps other couples in other universes realized those hopes. I believe we’ll find out that they did, that we did in all those alternate realities.
At the end of Isak Dinesen’s short story “Babette’s Feast,” the character of General Lorens Loewenhielm stands to make a toast. He says:
“Man, my friends, is frail and foolish. We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short?sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble. . . We tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers [and sisters], makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly.”
If the Resurrection of Christ teaches us nothing else, it teaches that: that grace is poured upon us abundantly. “We used to hope . . . and we still do.” Hope never dies and in the end all hope will be fulfilled. Amen.
This homily was offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on April 12, 2023, Wednesday in Easter Week, to the people of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio, where Fr. Funston was guest preacher.
The lessons for the day are from the Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 3:1-10, Psalm 118:19-24; and St. Luke 24:13-35. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.
Illustration from Ethan Siegel, This Is Why The Multiverse Must Exist, Forbes Magazine online, March 15, 2019, accessed April 11, 2023
Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.
 Luke 24:21 (NRSV)
 Romans 11:36 (NRSV)
 Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27 (NRSV)
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (Harper Collins, New York:2002)
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Letters from a Traveler (Harper, New York:1957), p. 168
 Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast, in Anecdotes of Destiny (Penguin, London:2001)