Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many.
So the solemnity of Lent is over; the emotions of Holy Week are past and we have arrived at Easter. Even the nation still recognises its importance (historically if nothing else) by granting us all a Bank Holiday. None of your VE Day Bank holiday nonsense, this is real victory – God’s great victory over sin, evil and death, in raising the crucified one to life and glory. ‘Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ indeed.
That brings to mind the words of 1 Peter 1.3, that famous verse: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’ That seems a better verse for Easter Monday than getting stuck into Paul’s second letter to that difficult church in Corinth that caused him such anguish.
But wait a minute…the risen Christ still bears the scars of the cross; the living hope is not some easy-going fantasy, looking always on the bright side of life. The living hope is forged in the cauldron of human suffering and divine sacrifice. It is hope at times in the face of hopelessness and despair, not optimism based on reasonable expectations. There is nothing reasonable or sentimental about Easter Day!
And so we come to Paul’s heart aching letter, that speaks of being crushed and despairing of life and through it coming to rely on the God who raises the dead. The letter that will open Paul’s hurt at his fellow Christians in Corinth and what they say about and do to each other and to him. Yet his hope in them is unshaken. Blessed by the God who brings us such amazing hope and consolation.
Such grace and peace you show us Living God, through the life and death and ever new life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such consolation, amid affliction; such hope, amid the strife; unshaken hope for ourselves, for our churches, for our world. Blessed be your name, name above all names.
The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity, High Wycombe and Cores End URC