“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” - Stephen King, the Shawshank Redemption
Does this passage remind you of anything? Palm Sunday perhaps? This reading might seem a little out of place in the middle of summer. Especially after having just celebrated Fourth of July and America’s long, drawn out war for freedom and democracy. Yet the battle rages on. So it seems appropriate for us to read this passage from time to time, to be reminded of God’s providence and mercy.
“Rejoice! Your king is riding to you!” writes the prophet Zechariah. Shout out loud! He is triumphant and victorious.” This is the kind of press any world leader would find flattering.
But Zechariah is writing about no ordinary king. This one is different. He rules with righteousness and justice. Relies on God’s strength alone. He is gentle and humble, not proud or boastful. For anyone looking to lead a country or dominate the world, these are good rules for you to follow.
When I think about a king riding into town on a small colt, it’s hard not to envision Jesus parading past a wailing crowd shouting “Hosanna! God save us!” And when I read he will set the prisoners free, I think, that’s Jesus; bringing hope to the hopeless and restoring peace among the nations of the world.
I had a teacher in seminary who taught we shouldn’t be too quick to put Jesus into every story; especially the prophetic texts. Either way Zechariah’s evocative passage is relevant in that it reminds us there is still hope even when we think all hope is lost. And isn’t that Jesus message?
Sure Jesus doesn’t own this universal theme of hope and restoration. Millions of books, songs, and movies have made a fortune on the hope we all cling to in difficult times. One needs to look no further than the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” whose theme line states: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”
It’s a fantastic story set in a maximum-security prison, (a great metaphor for all of life’s problems). And it follows a friendship between two men serving life sentences. When the prison system begins to beat down Andy, the newcomer pumps himself up by telling his friend Red, “There’s something inside us that they cannot touch.” When the old man asks what that is, Andy whispers, “Hope.”
When life hurts or dreams fade, we cling to the hope that things will get better. We see this in prisons, in hospitals, in drug rehabs and AA meetings, and in our own homes and workplace. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, God’s people shouted, “Hosanna!”
They clung to God’s promised hope knowing that without it they would never survive. But who would come to their rescue? A different kind of savior, redeemer, and king. The Roman Empire, like the empires today, used fear to imprison God’s children. But the Messiah, as Zechariah states, imprisons us with hope! Hope never dies.
Hope is the one thing that gets us through our daily life. Every Sunday before worship begins, I hope and pray that you will come to worship with us. I hope that someone who needs to hear God speak to them will be able to hear it from the words that God has put in my heart. More than positive thinking or wishful optimism, hope allows me to soldier onward and upward in my calling.
Without hope, the strongest Christian struggles to grow. Without hope a vulnerable student can get discouraged and drop out of school. Without hope, a fragile addict easily returns to old habits. Without hope, the best parent gives up on a child, married couples decide to divorce, or worse they stay in abusive relationships.
While hope gives us a sense of a brighter tomorrow, it is more than just a nice option that helps us temporarily clear a hurdle. It is a deep desire that a certain thing will happen. Hope is both a promise and a purpose.
Zechariah says the king is coming to you to restore God’s reign throughout all of creation. Whether or not he is talking about Jesus, this prophecy is Messiah’s story. By his words and deeds, his life and his death, Jesus embodied the identity the prophet has painted.
In doing so, Jesus provides a code by which we all are called to live by: a code of peacemaking rather than warmongering, a code of restoring creation rather than destroying it, a code of hope rather than a pit of despair. A code of purpose rather than pointlessness.
To live the Way of Christ is to live in a world that no longer has a need or desire for war; violence will have no place in our hearts or homes; we will no longer be ruled by fear but by God’s unending love, righteousness and peace. We will be restored by the blood of the covenant God has made with his children, and we will live in and live out that covenant accordingly.
Through Jesus, God has come to us…and has handed us the most powerful weapon of all: life over death. Such a victory and promise do not deny death’s reality, for if it did we’d have no need for hope. Instead God uses death to renew and restore life; now and in the world to come. This is the promise we cling to that helps us reclaim the world back to our Creator.
The Resurrection is our hope. It’s the one truth no ruler throughout history has ever been able to recreate. It is the one truth that freed the Apostles to proclaim the Good News. It is the truth that transforms sinners into saints. It’s the truth that keeps us free and prisoners like Andy alive.
At the end of “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy sends a letter reminding his old friend Red that, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
No matter how ugly and dark the world can seem Jesus is our true hope, the everlasting bright light that helps us see our way back to God where we find our peace and restoration.
Recently I read about an AP photographer who, shortly after 9/11, was sent to capture images at the site where the World Trade Center once stood. Throughout the first week, every one at Ground Zero was a prisoner of hope, praying that someone might be found alive. As the days passed and that hoped faded, the photographer found it harder and harder to capture images of the rescue workers.
One afternoon, he stood on the sidewalk in what would have been in the shadows of the towers. Tired and spent, his head dropped. There in a crack of a sidewalk littered with a life that once was, he noticed a dandelion had poked its way into the new light.
It wasn’t anything spectacular, just a weed growing out of a crack. With the roar of the machines only a few feet away, the photographer fell to his knees and burst into tears at the realization that life, even in such a place as this, will persist.
Amid the emerging nationalistic fervor and the cries for war that swept the country, one person found a glimpse of God’s great promise in a small, resilient weed on a dirty, unsuspecting sidewalk. Hosanna! Hosanna!
The image he captured that day is a life-giving reminder that we are children of a God who loves us enough to become like us, to answer our cries and rescue us from underneath the rubble of a broken and fallen world. If that isn’t Jesus, then I don’t know what is.
Let us pray: Holy Creator, the world is yours and we are your children. Send us now to be your radiant beams of hope and restoration for our community and for the world; all for the glory of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, the king of kings, Amen.
Baard, Rachel, and Trace Haythorn. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. Edited by David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor Bartlett. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.
McAllister, Stuart. "Cynicism and Hope." Slice of Infinity. Atlanta, July 7, 2017.