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過去兩年，新冠病毒與社政事件一直影響著我們，到現在還未平息。昔日我們想當然、習以為常的生活方式漸次改變了──坦然見面、同枱吃喝、暢所欲言本是我們的生活日常，現在多了口罩、間板、限聚等有形無形的隔閡；營會、旅行團、「自由行」原是不少家庭或志趣相投的人的假期活動，如今大家只能「坐困愁城」，以 staycation 來度過 long vacation。是的，這些年日我們都經歷失去：有些自由失去了，有些選擇沒有了，有些關係改變甚或破損了。或去或留，是不少身邊人「口中的語言，心中的意念」；不捨道別或不辭而別也成為了我們這段日子的共同經歷。
面對如此改變和失去，我想起使徒保羅寫給哥林多教會書信中的一句話：「現在常存的有信、望、愛這三樣，其中最大的是愛。」（林前十三 13，新譯本）他刻意把林前十三章（聖經學者譽為「愛章」）放在討論屬靈恩賜的段落（十二和十四章）中間，為要指明愛是各樣屬靈恩賜之外必不可少的道（林前十二 31）。因此，以「其中最大的是愛」作為「愛章」的最後一句是順理成章的。然而，為何保羅要特別提出「如今常存的有信、望、愛這三樣」？
Faith, Hope and Love Will Remain and Last Forever
Rev Patrick Wong
For two years, we have lived under the influence of the pandemic and socio-political issues, which are still unsettled now. Our habitual way of life – that which we took for granted – is gradually changing. We used to meet face to face, eat together, and talk freely together. Now we have masks, partitions, and gathering restrictions as visible or invisible barriers between us. Many families used to go on camps, travels or self-guided tours as their favorite vacation activities. Now they can only stay home reluctantly or go on staycation to spend their long vacation. Indeed, we have experienced loss these years: some freedom, some options, some changed or broken relationships. For some people, the "words of the mouth and meditation of the heart" are about whether to leave or stay. Saying sad goodbyes or leaving without saying so has become our recent shared experience.
In the face of change and loss, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). Paul has deliberately put 1 Corinthians 13 (which Bible scholars call the Love Chapter) in the middle of the passage on spiritual gifts (Chapter 12 and Chapter 14). His purpose was to make clear that alongside all the spiritual gifts, love is indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:31). That was why he concluded the Love Chapter with "But the greatest of these is love." But why did Paul specially mention "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love"?
"Remain" in the original language appears eight times in 1 Corinthians. Judging from the context each time the word is used, the word means remaining unchanged in a changing, trying situation. In other words, Paul was stressing this to the problematic Corinthian church: The circumstances may be complicated, always changing and challenging. Yet, faith, hope and love will last forever. They are what Christians should hold on to. Christians are not to choose from among the three. They must have all three.
I am also reminded of a family I know: The father at mid-life had a stroke at home one day and was sent to intensive care in hospital for emergency rescue. The doctor said it was unlikely that the brother would resume consciousness and the family needed to prepare for the worst. His wife was heartbroken but she did not give up. She asked brothers and sisters and the pastoral staff to pray for her husband’s recovery, and explored all sorts of therapies. She tried her utmost for the best care possible for her husband. Even though she had to work and at the same time take care of young kids, she had hope for her husband to resume consciousness and to recover. She had faith in the Heavenly Father's lovingkindness and might.
Some days later, the brother could finally open his eyes. He has recently been transferred to a rehabilitation center. With the relaxed anti-pandemic restrictions, the wife could visit him every day, talk to him, massage him and feed him (the brother has learnt to swallow on his own). Her love for her husband has added to her faith and hope in God and in man.
In the face of change and loss, faith, hope, love will remain and last forever.