by Tom Eggebrecht
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
The kind of despair that leads to death and self-harm can be capricious, unpredictable and completely invisible. Money, power, fame, beauty — even the external appearance of a perpetual joie de vivre — are no true indicator of inner peace and well-being.
This is perhaps never more apparent than when someone who seems to have everything decides just to throw it all away.
The truth of this was brought home for me this summer by a pair of news items that have now long since faded from the 24-hour news cycle. On the morning of June 6, The Today Show came on and reported the news that fashion designer, Kate Spade, had died of an apparent suicide. Then, not more than three days later, came more unexpected news. Our daughter texted me and said that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had also died of an apparent suicide.
Just like that, they were gone. Two people who seemed to have everything one could want in life came to a point where they decided they just couldn’t live anymore.
I obviously knew neither Kate Spade nor Anthony Bourdain intimately. But their public personas always seemed to be filled with hope, joy and a love of life. That’s why their deaths were so unexpected. They both had successful careers and were admired the world over. They both had more money than they could have ever spent. They both could live in the finest homes, travel anywhere in the world and should they so choose, eat at the finest restaurants for every meal.
Why would people like that end their lives the way they did? We will obviously never know for sure. Spade went to a Catholic high school. Bourdain said he was raised without religion. Neither seems to have been active in any kind of religious faith in the years leading up to their unexpected deaths. It’s unwise to speculate, of course, but I can’t help wondering if things might have been different for them had they carried within themselves the expectant hope that fills believers in Jesus and been surrounded by a loving faith community when despair came knocking.
Death too often intrudes with his ugly face at times when we least expect him. But he always seems to be there looming. And next to death, despair.
When I find myself facing events like these, whether in the national news or closer to home, my mind turns to the words of one of my favorite hymns, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (LSB 575). From the time I sat in the back corner of Mrs. Heitman’s fourth grade class at Northwest Lutheran School discussing the topic of heaven, I’ve known I needed true and expectant hope in my life. This hymn, which we sang often in our grade school chapel services, showed me precisely why my hope in Christ is both expectant and certain:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
The older I get, the more I must recognize and accept that my own body is frail and failing. There is no hope to be found inside myself. None. The only thing there is impending death. Recently becoming a grandparent has shown me just how important it is for my grandson to have hope that extends beyond today or tomorrow. As little Crosby grows up in this increasingly anti-Christian world, he will need a hope that expects something glorious and certain beyond this life. My deepest desire is for him to stand on Christ, the solid Rock, until the day he stands on the solid ground of the world that is to come.
This great hymn verse reminds me of two important gifts from Jesus. By his cross he has given me the eternal salvation I could not gain for myself. His righteousness has made my imperfect life perfect in the eyes of my heavenly Father. And in my baptism, He has given me his blood and his righteousness. His blood has forgiven me of all my sins and made His victory on the cross my victory. Without these gifts, I would have no hope. As St. Paul reminds us, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
Christian hope is an expectant hope. It looks forward and is confident that all the promises of God are “yes” in Jesus. My prayer is that a day will come when the Kate Spades and Anthony Bourdains of this world will “wholly lean on Jesus’ name” and see no merit in themselves, but only Jesus.
There is hope. It is certain. It is available to everyone. Expect it.
Tom Eggebrecht is Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Casselberry, Florida, and loves to spread hope around. Follow his personal blog at www.tomeggebrecht.com.