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Our Steadfast Hope

by Peter J. Lynch

Throughout the centuries of Christian tradition, the Church has used many symbols to express mysteries that at times are so profound they are ultimately inexpressible. Among the many unfathomable symbols we find the Cross, the Fish, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of Sacrifice. One symbol that sometimes becomes lost in the shuffle is the Anchor. It is known throughout antiquity as a symbol of Christian Hope, one of the theological virtues (along with faith and charity). This ancient symbol of hope was used to a great extent during the time when Christianity saw an anchor, a cross or a fish, scratched on a door, they knew they had arrived at a Christian home and they would be welcome and be safe from harm. This symbol of hope was also used in order to mark a burial of a Christian, because of the hope they have in Christ. But what exactly is this hope, and how does this symbol speak of this hope?

If we look upon the traditional shape of the anchor, we find that it contains the shape of a cross. At the base of the cross there is a curved piece which cradles the bottom of the cross. This is the part that would dig into the bottom of the sea to hold fast the boat in the water. Already we begin to see that the cross in the anchor points to the Cross of Christ in which we hold a great hope – the hope of our salvation. By his death on the cross, Christ conquered death for us, and by his rising to life we have been given the opportunity for new life in him. By truly entering into his death by our baptism, which is our entrance into the community of his body, we also then die to sin and we conquer death through his victory. But the symbol of the anchor goes even deeper, and broader.

Just as the anchor is used to hold the boat secure, so our hope anchored in Christ’s saving love for us holds us securely to the certainty of our ultimate end – eternal life with God. This is the real depth of Christian hope. We can easily miss it because of our current understanding of what hope is. We often think that hope is synonymous with the word "wish," as if there is uncertainty about the outcome, and we long for something that may never happen. Rather, Christian hope far surpasses this idea of wishing, and instead it is a longing for what will certainly happen. In other words, rather than a wish, hope is a promise, the promise of eternal life, and it is Christ that is our hope.

Our Christian hope is founded not on uncertainty, but on certainty, on facts, especially on the fact that Christ, the Son of God, died for us, and rose again. He is alive! And he lives in us! This is not in the sense of a loved one "living on" in our memories, or a wish or ideal of something not attained. This is a reality. He lives for he has risen. We can remember the apostles’ disbelief, to the point that they even had to probe the nail holes and put their hands in his side. Some even decided to go about their lives even after they had seen him risen, and Jesus had to call to them again to follow him. He ate with them, walked with them, talked with them and though at times they did not recognize him, they came to know intimately that he is alive. He then sent his Holy Spirit as he promised so he might be with us even more intimately – that he might be within us. This is what we mean when we say that we put our hope in him; by laying our hope in Christ as an anchor in the bed of the sea, we can be held secure in that Rock that is Christ; and this hope is our salvation. For hope that is fastened to the living Christ is our certainty, or our promise of our own eternal life. So we see that hope is not merely wishing, but putting our confidence in a sure reality and that sure reality is that Christ is alive today. He is our hope who leads us onto the eternity of days. We can fasten anew our anchor on the immovable Rock that is Christ.

Hope humbly then;
with trembling pinions soar...
What future bliss,
He gives not thee to know,
But given that Hope to be they blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and espatiates in a life to come.

- Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

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