It was on this day in 1852 that poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of such poems as “Paul Revere’s Ride,” visited the Jewish cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island. His visit to the centuries-old cemetery inspired him to write a poem about those who were laid to rest there. Here is an excerpt:
“How came they here? What burst of Christian hate, what persecution, merciless and blind;
Drove o’er the sea – that desert desolate, these Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind;
Anathema, Maranatha! Was the cry that rang from town to town, from street to street;
At every gate the accursed Mordecai was mocked and jeered and spurned by Christian feet.
Pride and humiliation hand in hand, walked with them through the world where’er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand, and yet unshaken as the continent.”
In this poem Longfellow delivers a blistering rebuke of carnal Christians and their treatment of Jews throughout history, including in North America. Reading between the lines of this poem is the fact that, though persecuted, these Jewish men and women possessed the ability to stick together, even in death. This is important to consider because, looking at western culture as a whole, too many families are incredibly dysfunctional and disconnected. On the other hand, for the most part, Jewish families (and some other cultures) have a tendency to stay together, which then provokes the question, “How do they do that?” How have they been able to retain their identity through the centuries in spite of intense persecution. How have they been able to hold onto their faith in the face of ridicule and disdain? How have they been able to stay together as a community?
Personally, I believe it is tied to the common hope of redemption and the realization of God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness to His people when they are committed to their call. To be disconnected from that “lifeline” poses a scenario that is too frightening for most. And so as followers of Messiah, we need to take note of the binding attributes of the hope in our redemption. In Romans 8, Paul wrote of how redemption plays a role in our lives.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:22-25)
Moreover, this hope in redemption produces faith:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
We hope for what we do not see. The substance of that hope is faith and, without that faith, it is impossible to please God. And so, these two things – hope and faith – are related to one another and are bound together in the promise of redemption. Here’s the point: there is no doubt that we are and will be facing persecution. Many of our brethren around the world live with persecution every day. Though in America we have been somewhat isolated from this, each new day reveals that the enemies of the faith are becoming more brazen in their hatred for God’s people.
And so, when the persecution comes, it will not be what we know that will see us through to the other side; it will be who we know. Our confidence in God and the hope we have in the promise of redemption will empower us to face whatever comes our way. Furthermore, as the days grow darker, we will realize the benefit of being closely connected to our family, especially our family of faith. I believe that is what Mr. Longfellow observed in that Jewish cemetery; people who were bound together by the same faith and hope.
This is a great lesson for all of God’s people. Consequently we are reminded that, in spite of everything that is going on, we are to look up and be filled with hope, knowing that our redemption is at hand. Our Father in heaven is sovereign and He is faithful to keep His Word to us. So, today, may our hope produce faith and may our faith compel us to be one with our God and with our brother and sisters in the LORD.