“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-2, 5 NIV
The story of the Royal Oak:
In 1651, England was a grim place for Prince Charles II. His father had been executed by parliament just a few years earlier and now the masses were coming for him. Oliver Cromwell had just decimated the royal army in the Battle of Worcester, and the only hope the royalists had was that the future King had survived. He escaped to the house of William Carlisse, one of his last remaining loyal officers, praying that there would be somewhere on the estate to hide. It wasn’t a brilliant plan, since it was obvious to his enemies that it was the only safe place for him to go, but at least this way he could lose his head among friends.
Soon after, the night came when the house was no longer safe. Carlisse suggested they climb the large oak to the side of the house, and hide among the branches. It was preposterous, for surely the soldiers would look there first. And what about his dignity? After some debate, safety won out over pride, they packed cheese and wine and hurried up the tree.
The men held their breath as they watched enemy soldiers walk directly under their feet. The Prince laughed silently at the absurdity of it all. But below the laughter hope was forming, and from that hope he remembered his birth right, and from his promised destiny he found the strength to make a better plan. And then he fell asleep.
We also hold something in our branches that the world wants to destroy. And like the prince, we remain safe, nestled with our saving grace in the pews. We come weary, and in search of rest. We know that at this altar we are safe from the judgement, evil, shame and stress that will try to trap us as soon as we walk away. Here we are safe from the people who seem increasingly vindictive and a culture that’s beginning to resent our presence.
I wish I was present to see the moment the all clear was given, and it was tine for the Prince to shimmy back down the tree. Although there is no written account of what he was thinking, I can’t imagine the courage it took. Was it a trap? Would he escape the country with his life or suffer the fate of his father? Even if he did escape, would anyone still follow a king who had so little dignity, that he would hide in a tree? There were no guarantees of safety, or happy endings to give him hope. Only the purpose into which he was born, ruling and caring for England.
In the end, the future king Charles II found a way out and escaped to France. He was finally able to return to England 10 years later during the restoration, victorious, with a crown and a throne.
Just like the king, we can’t rest in the branches forever, ignoring the world beyond. Too often people fall asleep in the safety of the sanctuary, forgetting their comission. While we are here we rest in security, but with the purpose of building our courage for the tasks ahead. We prepare our hearts to go out and do his will: to love others as he loves us, to help the needy and guide the lost. There are not promises of comfort or safety, but we are strong because we know that victory is our birth right, that it was won by the power of His sacrificial love.
Boast in hope, and let it strengthen you for the trials ahead.