A Homily given during 6pm Night Prayer, by The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold AO, on the 7th January 2024.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

In this year’s Serenata Night Prayer series, I am asking us to reflect on the issues of Hope and Hopelessness. This evening I chose the famous verses from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 to be read – I say famous because they have probably been used in more weddings, faith-based and otherwise, than any other Bible verses. But I chose them tonight, not for their obvious focus on love, but because of part of verse 13:

Now faith, hope and love abide, these three.

These words suggest that these three important ideas can be considered interwoven in a unity – faith, hope and love each drawing strength from the other.

How do you see Hope? As a desperation? A desire? An emotion? An obligation? A part of our being?

Do you see hope as inherently capable of changing circumstances or as a concept dependent upon prevailing conditions?

As you reflect on your responses to these questions, let me first tell you of a conversation I had back in 2008. I was talking with a friend who, though not a believer, cares about others. Just days before our conversation, the press had reported an horrific case of child abuse in Adelaide. Here is part of a retelling of that story:

The ‘House of Horrors’ … was home to 21 children who suffered through starvation and torture … the home was uncovered by police, who found children living among walls smeared with faeces and smelling of urine, and infestations of flies, maggots and cockroaches …the children were aged between four and seven … (and) had been starved to the point of malnutrition, with examinations showing that their brains had shrunk from the deprivation to basic nutrients. [Daily Mail 10 November 2014]

 My conversant and I had both been horrified to read these reports, leading him to say:

Those children have no hope.

Hearing his words, two explosions went off in my mind. If what I believed was true, then what he had said could not possibly be true. Had not Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that you might have life in all its fullness”? Surely, he had meant those words universally … that his incarnation and ultimate resurrection was to offer hope to everyone. He had not said, “I came that some of you might have life in all its fullness; … but others of you, well it’s a pity, but sorry you’re not included.” If Jesus’ words did indeed imply partiality towards some but not others, then my faith would surely be bankrupt. In another part of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had written:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins … if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. [1 Cor 15:16-17, 19]

No, I thought to myself, my faith is not bankrupt; Christ did come with his hand offered to all, and he did rise for all … so, yes, hope must be there for everyone.

But then, a second explosion went off in my head. In terms of the rationality of this world, what my conversant had said was an awful yet rational conclusion to the reported facts. After all those children had gone through, how could they ever fully recover? From every rational viewpoint, he had stated the obvious. As I say, he is not a believer and, on the basis of his perspective, he had simply said what appeared to be transparently obvious – those children could have no hope.

At the time, I was the chief executive of Anglicare SA; so challenged was I by our conversation that, the next day I was in the office, I told the team that we had a great task before us – how could we convince people like him that hope could be there for everyone? Thus was born a new slogan which Anglicare SA continued to use for some years – Hope is Here.

The slogan was a very useful tool for me to spruik the capacity of those who believe and their agencies to make a difference in any circumstance, no matter how dire. CEOs find such tools useful.

But all these years later, an insistent question has kept pushing itself forward – ‘Yes, hope may be here, but how so?’ How so for those abused children I have mentioned, how so for any other circumstance you yourselves may have encountered where things seemed so dire as understandably to be labelled ‘hopeless’ by some?

Because of the insistence of that question, I thought I would use it as the basis for our reflections in this serenata series. In preparing for it, I asked Henry Ergas, whose counsel I have come to value for his knowledge of the history of ideas, for his comments on classical allusions to hope and hopelessness. Amongst his helpful insights, were two pertinent phrases. Firstly, explaining the negative attitudes towards the concept of Hope held by ancient Greeks, he wrote:

(Hope) is almost never … an emotion praise(d), it is instead one that misleads, with tragic consequences. In short, if reason, fate and hopelessness come from Athens, hope it seems, comes entirely from Jerusalem.

Secondly, and moving through the centuries to the C18 & C19 with the thinking of Kant and Kierkegaard, he noted a chasm between rationality and the idea of Hope:

There could be no rational basis for hope. Rather, hope had to be grounded in the leap of faith across any abyss of despair that reason alone could never hope to cross.

I have quoted from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this evening not only for the content of what he wrote but because of to whom he wrote – the Corinthians. These were a people whose thinking about hope had come through generations of thinkers who had disparaged the very idea of hope. When Hesiod wrote of Pandora opening the dreaded box which spewed ills upon the world, all that remained in the container was Hope. Yet, this was no positive concept; the original Greek word used ἐλπίς [elpis], was not ‘hope’ as we know it, but a ‘deceptive expectation’ according to the commentary of Brill’s companion to Hesiod. Pandora, the wife of Prometheus’ twin brother Epimetheus, who was also known as Afterthought, left Hope in the bottom of the box, an afterthought after all malign circumstances had launched themselves upon humanity. The Greeks had a philosophy of hope, but it was a negative view; it was definitely not something to be believed in.

It was into such an audience that Paul boldly declared Hope as abiding with Faith and Love. The prevailing Corinthian view, even if not of the believers in the church of Corinth, would have been that hopelessness prevailed; Paul told them ‘Hope is Here’, but this was no clichéd wishful thinking, no afterthought of an idea, but a proactive concept through the resurrection of Christ. While Paul may have written:

if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

His listeners knew the significance of the rhetorical device he employed in those words, since they had also heard his definitive proclamation of the risen Christ – the same who had been incarnate and ascended across the abyss of despair that is death, to a place mere earthly reason could not reach. A place beyond philosophy, the place of theology. They could then have evolved their understanding of hope away from the Corinthian or Athenian towards Jerusalem, as Ergas put it.

Is your concept of Hope a philosophy or a theology? Where does the risen Christ appear in your consideration of Hope and Hopelessness? In some moments of reflection, let us now ponder these questions.

Now faith, hope and love abide, these three.