Reflection for Palm Sunday - Where Can Hope be Found?

In the 1983 movie, The Christmas Story, nine-year-old Ralphie Parker’s favorite radio show of all time is Little Orphan Annie. Ralphie’s greatest aspiration in life is to collect enough Ovaltine labels to join Annie’s Secret Society so that he can get a Secret decoder ring and solve the codes that Annie presents on her show each week. In order to get the right amount of labels, Ralphie drinks gallons of Ovaltine, becoming completely sick of the beverage in the process. Months after setting out to get his decoder ring, Ralphie finally receives it in the mail and excitedly sets out to decode his first secret message. Movie viewers can feel Ralphie’s tremendous disappointment as he realizes that the message is, in his words, just a “crummy commercial.” The top secret message from Little Orphan Annie turns out to be: “Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine.” Ralphie is crushed…where can hope be found in this situation?

I was nine years old when my mother became pregnant with her fifth child. I was very excited about the coming baby. I took baby-sitting classes with an excessive amount of enthusiasm. I really enjoyed practicing changing diapers on baby dolls, learning how to hold a baby’s head properly, and thumping my dolls’ backs in order to “burp” them. I insisted on holding every real baby at our church so that I could “practice,” sometimes scaring the poor mothers as I snatched their babies from them. With all of that preparation I was utterly shocked when my mother sat us down in her ninth month of pregnancy to tell us that the baby had unexpectedly died in her womb. The baby I had been picturing in my mind for almost nine months was NOT going to appear. The disappointment was so heavy I could not breathe for several seconds after I heard the news. It was devastating. Where could hope be found?

We do not forget huge disappointments in our lives; the feelings of sorrow and loss that result can last for a long time. Some people seem to be beset by continual disappointments. Let’s look at historical figure Abraham Lincoln for a moment. Lincoln had to start working at age seven when his family lost its home. Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine. During his early years, Lincoln came very close to drowning, was kicked in the head by a horse, and suffered from malaria (twice), smallpox, and syphilis. He tried to start a business at age 21, and failed. Two years later he lost his job completely, ran and lost for the state legislature, and tried to get into law school, but his application was rejected. One year later, after another failed business, Lincoln went bankrupt. At age 26, his fiancée died. Not long after that his only sister died during childbirth. Between the ages of 28 and 49, Lincoln lost five national and state elections. By all counts, Abraham Lincoln was a born loser. Where could hope be found?

There must have been so much excitement when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate Passover. The crowds of people were filled with anticipation and joyful expectation – their long-awaited Messiah and King had arrived! They threw their cloaks down on the dusty ground to pave Jesus’ way and waved their palm branches, exclaiming: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They believed that Jesus was their savior – the one who would surely bring back the glory of Israel. How crushingly disappointed they must have been just one week later when Jesus, instead of saving the Jewish people, was put to death on a cross…killed like a common criminal. Their disappointment manifested itself in anger as many changed their cries from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him!” Where could hope be found?

Life is often a disappointment, as we all know. People – those we love – get sick, have accidents, die… Our friends and family often let us down; they are not as understanding, as kind, as empathetic as we feel they should be.

The world is a disappointment. We look out wanting to see joy and compassion and goodness. But what we see is war and hunger and unimaginable cruelty. We sometimes echo today’s psalmist as we ask God why He has seemingly abandoned us. It is hard to see hope in our world. Where can it be found?

Hope, as we all know, is with God and with the promise of an eternal life of joy in Heaven. Jesus was crucified for us – He died on the cross so that He could be resurrected, bringing a message of new hope to the world. We look to God when we need hope, when all seems lost in our world. God bestowed on us a great gift by handing over His only begotten Son. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we received the gift of hope – a gift to triumph over life’s disappointments.

We can use this gift of hope and healing to help in our troubled world. In The Christmas Story movie, Ralphie’s family finally comes around to being there for him as he goes through the pains of adolescence. It was certainly a dark time when our family lost our baby brother, but not all hope was lost. People stepped in to help: to offer comforting words, to help set up a little funeral and burial, to be LIGHT for us. And while saddened by his disappointments in life, Abraham Lincoln never gave up hope and was rewarded when, at age 51, he won a major election, becoming President of the United States.

God’s hope, a hope much stronger than any earthly disappointment, is in each one of us, a gift of light and compassion that we can extend to others. We can be a beacon of hope in the world through our words and actions. We spread hope by: offering to help another person in need; saying something nice when someone is sad or disappointed; choosing not to gossip about another person; putting forth the positive of a situation rather than the negative; generously sharing our knowledge and gifts with others; not succumbing to self-pity when we feel hurt or offended; and not responding to unkindness with unkindness. The hope within us allows us, in the words of Isaiah, to (figuratively) give our backs to those who beat us and our cheeks to those who pluck our beards.

Our ultimate hope is indeed the promise of everlasting glory in heaven. But we can live out that heavenly hope each day we are here on earth. Saint Catherine of Siena said: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because He said, “I am the Way.” Each of us has a piece of that resurrection hope within us: to cherish and to share.


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