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First Reading = Luke 19:28-40
28After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
We are almost done with our series about Good Grief. We have today plus Maundy Thursday to finish out the series. Just a reminder about the Holy Week schedule.
On Thursday at 7pm we have our Maundy Thursday service with Communion.
On Friday at noon we’re going to have a new experience for Good Friday. We will have the Scriptural stations of the cross that take you on each step of the journey from Jesus’ betrayal to his crucifixion. Each step has a Bible reading, a piece of art in the bulletin illustrating that part of the story, and then we will extinguish a candle after each station. It’s an emotionally and spiritually moving way to enter Good Friday.
Next Sunday is Easter! We’ll have two services at 8 and 10am. The kids are going to have a digital scavenger hunt at 9am to experience the Easter story. They’ll scan special printed codes with an app I developed, and then they will see 3D animations for each part of the story. We’ll provide the tablets, so bring your kids or grandkids or friends! And around 11:15 we have the traditional Easter egg hunt.
So pop quiz! What time is Maundy Thursday worship? 7 pm!
What time is the Good Friday scriptural stations of the cross? Noon!
What are the two Easter worship times? 8 and 10am!
When is the digital Easter scavenger hunt for the kids? 9 am!
And the Easter egg hunt? 11:15!
So don’t tell me you don’t have Holy Week options – because good grief do we got ‘em in spades.
And speaking of good grief, let’s get back to today. As we have done with each week of this series, we’re going to examine some common cliches and see what’s helpful, what’s unhelpful, and what tools can we learn to have good grief.
This week we’re going to look at cliches like, “It’ll all be OK,” and “It will get better.” Will it? Let’s chat about that!
Sermon Text = Revelation 21:1-6
21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Real vs False Hope
Well, you know what they say – time heals all wounds. But as someone who was a chaplain on the infectious disease floor for a while, I have to protest. I have seen some very literal wounds that time did not heal. One man came in with a toe infection. They amputated the toe. It spread to his foot. He lost his foot. It spread up his leg. He lost his leg below the knee. I rotated off that floor around then, but the last meeting I had with him he heard it had spread higher up his leg.
That is what I remember every time someone tells me that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. Time heals some wounds. Time makes some pain more bearable. But not every wound goes away. Not every pain fades away.
Similarly, I have seen this play out many times, but I’ll just tell you one. I was standing next to a woman who was revealing her recent cancer diagnosis. And another person in the group replied with a smile, “Well I’m sure it will all be OK.” In case you’re wondering, this person was not an oncologist. So they had absolutely ZERO clue if it would all be OK.
Now, technically, it’s correct to say that it will all be OK. As our reading today reminds us, God will remake earth and heaven. God will make his home among us. Everything will be redeemed. Some day. And if you come on Good Friday at noon you’ll hear Jesus say to the thief next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Just to be clear, that’s paradise after dying.
So, technically, telling someone it will surely be OK is correct. Telling someone that time heals all wounds is technically correct. But you might be telling someone, “Some day you’ll be dead, and then it will all be great!” I’m not sure that’s the most helpful thing we can tell someone.
So when we say these cliches, what are we really trying to say? Well I think this really comes down to having hope for today. When we say that time heals all wounds, we’re trying to encourage someone to have hope right now because it will be better in the future. When we say that it will surely be OK, we’re trying to encourage someone tot have hope right now because life doesn’t always have the worst possible outcome. In fact, from a 30,000 foot view, way more good than bad happens.
So the good part of these cliches is that other people are trying to encourage the grieving and frightened by giving them hope. That’s good! Giving people hope when they’re scared or hurting is good!
Lloyd wanted to know if there was any hope. So he asked Mary what the chances were of them ending up together. He told her, “Hit me with it! I’ve come a long way to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?” “Not good, Lloyd.”
“You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?” “I’d say, more like one out of a million.” <PAUSE>
“So, you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!”
That’s the all-time cinema classic, “Dumb and Dumber,” featuring Jim Carrey, by the way.
I believe that telling someone it will all be OK or that time heals all wounds is like Mary telling Lloyd that there’s a chance. It might be one in a million, but there’s a chance! And everything will be OK, but you might be dead by the time it happens.
In short, I believe that trying to give someone hope is good. But it better be real hope instead of false hope. None of this one in a million, it will all be better even though I don’t know what I’m talking about stuff.
Real hope sustains people through the most difficult circumstances. False hope leaves you bitter and wrecked. It’s super common, but it’s kind of hard to watch when parents with sick children are early in the journey. This drug will be the miracle! This test will reveal the miracle surgical option! This second drug will be the one! No, this third one will surely be it! Sometimes it is. But in the circles I run in, a lot of the time it’s false hope.
It’s OK to say, “I hope this helps!” But when you pin all of your hopes on this being the miracle – most of the time it’s not. And then you’re emotionally drained or bitter. False hope is a fast way to wreck your heart and soul.
The Palm Sunday story is really about false hope. Remember the context. Israel was occupied and controlled by Rome. And the general expectation was that the Messiah would be a king like David. David was primarily known for defeating the enemy in battle. He slayed the giant Goliath. He defeated the Philistines over and over again. David turned a defeated people into a triumphant people. Oo-rah!
That was the crowd’s hope and expectation on Palm Sunday. They shouted “Hosannah,” which means “Save us!” They didn’t mean spiritually save us. They meant politically save us. They meant militarily save us. They meant save us from the Roman legions.
I have long wondered what sound the crowd was making when Jesus made his unexpected turn on Palm Sunday. He entered the city at the head of a frothing and expectant crowd. All he had to do was keep going straight to confront Pilate and the Roman garrison. But then he turned. I imagine some woman in the crowd had to yell out, “Jesus! The Romans are that way! Men never stop and ask for directions!”
But he didn’t go that way to the Romans, he turned. He went up to the Temple. He threw out the money changers who were taking advantage of people’s religion for financial gain. He demonstrated that he was there to bridge the gap between humans and God. But the crowd had hoped that he would convert this defeated people into a triumphant, independent, powerful nation.
I mean, imagine if a popular figure was heading to Ukraine. And everyone thought he was a general come to liberate them. But what if, instead of fighting the invaders, he went to a cathedral to give a sermon? How popular would that person be? They might crucify him – literally!
That’s the closest analogy I can give right now to how the crowd must have felt when Jesus went to the Temple on Palm Sunday instead of marching on the Romans. The false hope of what they meant by “Hosannah” on Palm Sunday quickly turned into the deadly “Crucify him!” on Good Friday.
You can’t find anything more valuable than real hope. And you can’t find anything less valuable than false hope. So if you want to comfort someone and help them keep their chin up because there’s hope – make sure it’s real hope.
Responding for the Long Term
And, you know, sometimes it really does get better. Sometimes the wound really is healed with time. That’s great. But let’s talk about the times it doesn’t get better. Let’s talk about when you’re facing something that you have to learn to live with.
I used to be in the habit of doing my devotional early in the day. But my kids are up at 6 at the latest. This night owl isn’t getting up at 5am to do his devotional. Sorry – it ain’t happening! Not even Lloyd’s one in a million chance on that one. I just had to find a different time. I just had to modify my approach, because the situation is not changing. I had to respond, not just once, but for the long term.
After injuring the same spot on my right knee several times, I realized I couldn’t play basketball any more. So I had to respond, not just once, but for the long term. I needed a different form of exercise that I would actually do. It has taken a few attempts, but I finally have a mix of exercise options that motivate me.
When our situation isn’t going to resolve itself, we have to respond for the long term. Earlier in this series we said we shouldn’t ask, “Why did this happen to me?” but instead ask, “Now that this has happened to me, how will I respond?” We can take that a step further today. “Now that this situation is here to stay, how will I respond for the long term?”
Let me say that again, “Now that this situation is here to stay, how will I respond for the long term?”
If you are a widow or a widower, time isn’t going to heal that wound completely. My pastoral care professor in seminary said that isn’t even the goal when we’ve lost a loved one. The goal isn’t to move on, it’s to move those memories and emotions into a mental room where you can choose to go when you want to laugh or cry or simply remember. So how can you respond for the long term? A lot of people find the holidays or birthdays or anniversaries to be particularly difficult times. That’s super normal. Can you schedule friends or family to be around during those high grief times proactively?
If you are a long-term caregiver, one of the hardest parts is just the relentlessness of it. How can you respond for the long term? What fills you? Where can you intentionally schedule some time for restoring your soul and giving your emotions a real break? If you get burned out every six weeks, is there anything you can do proactively?
My family spent spring break in Galveston on the beach. Hurricanes happen in the Gulf of Mexico. Floods happen on Texas’ barrier islands. So they build the houses close to the beach on stilts. The house we stayed at was about 17-18 feet in the air. That’s a lot of steps to get to your front door, but it’s responding for the long term. The houses that weren’t tall enough are gone now. They had false hope. The houses that were up high enough mostly survived the last hurricane. They took long term action and had real hope when the waters rose.
Instead of clinging to false hope, I recommend facing the reality of the situation and trying to figure out where you can find some stilts to respond for the long term.
But just think about one thing you can improve. If you’re lonely, what’s one thing you can do to improve it long term? If you’re sick, what’s one thing you can do to improve your experience long term? If you’re an in-home caregiver, what’s one thing you can do to stay partially sane for the long term?
“Now that this situation is here to stay, how will I respond for the long term?” Find some real hope, not false hope.
Sisters and brothers, in our text today from Revelation, Jesus tells us, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” Jesus is a never-ending stream of real hope to keep going. He doesn’t offer to fix everything – at least not while we’re alive. But he does offer to stay within our hearts and souls and minds to give us the ability to keep going – if we keep drinking from his never-ending stream. That’s a real hope.
And we can also respond for the long term to give ourselves more real hope. “Now that this situation is here to stay, how will I respond for the long term?” Amen.