Do Not Expect, But Hope
A Palm Sunday Reflection
by Eric Elkin
This “iHope” sign was conceived not long after I discovered my stay at Richfield United Methodist Church was going to be longer than a 5-month interim. The decision to extend my temporary status another year was not what I was expecting. It was a time of uncertainty for the congregation and for me.
The Director of Spiritual Formation wanted a theme for the summer and kept pressing me about it. At the time, I was not sure how a theme would inform us, or, how well it would capture people’s attention. But I thought it was fitting, given the uncertainty of the future, to focus on hope.
I liked how this phrase played on the familiar cultural icons of technology, the iPhone and the iPad. The word, hope, standing on its own is a concept. It did not necessarily connect the person speaking it with the meaning. iHope, though, claims hope as a perspective for the individual speaking it or wearing it on a t-shirt. iHope was more than a theme, it was a declaration of a particular outlook.
This sign was crafted by the hands of children and adults in our neighborhood and our congregation. During last summers’ Community Carnival, we invited participants to throw paint packs at a sign. Looking at the image, one sees colors and letters, but truthfully, these are fingerprints of life. The colors represent each hand drawn into the life we breathe into this neighborhood.
At the time of the signs’ creation, we entered our neighborhood with expectations, not hope. Each time we held a community event, we expected enrollment in Sunday School to grow. We expected worship attendance to grow. We expected financial support to increase.
When our engagement with the neighborhood did not meet our expectations, we turned our hearts cold. People in the congregation would say things like, “Why are we doing this?” “What’s the point?” “We keep spending money, but if there is no return, why do it?”
Expectations are rigid. They often have well-defined outcomes based on our own perception of the world. Fulfillment of an expectation is graded based on whether that outcome is met. If an expectation is achieved, there is little joy. We expected that outcome. However, when the outcome is not reached, there is despair and emptiness.
In this sense, expectations are fleeting feelings unable to endure or sustain us. Hope is different from Expectation. Perhaps I should say, faith-based hope is different from expectation.
If you were to look up the word, hope, in a dictionary the first meaning you would find would say, “A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” However, the second definition, identified as archaic, defines hope as a “feeling of trust.” This archaic definition is what we in the Christian faith define as hope.
The hope we discover in the Bible, the archaic kind of hope, is the confident trust what God promises, God will deliver. And this kind of hope is always at odds with the expectations of the believing people. Their expectations are often based on their own wisdom and the circumstances surrounding them.
The event we celebrate as Palm Sunday is no different. The people gather at the city entrance to welcome Jesus with expectation. Their expectation was based on their awareness of history, their current condition and the power they experienced from Jesus. They expected a return of the Kingdom of Israel, a defeat of the occupying Roman forces, and the establishment of a true Jewish king. When their expectations were not met, the crowds turned on Jesus.
So we remember the movement of this day. We open worship with the palms and Hallelujahs. We sing of victory and praise. As worship draws to a close, our words change. We move from joy to sorrow, from fulfillment to abandonment, from success to an arrest. This movement in worship is more than just play acting an ancient story. We are invited to think about our own fractured expectations and the wounds which come with those disappointments.
We are invited to take all of these wounds and place them on the shoulders of Jesus as he walks to the cross. We put them there so our wounds might become the joy of the resurrection. When we participate in this ritual, it helps to change our framework from selfish expectation to a broader sense of hope.
Do not expect, but hope. In hope, we are united even when we are divided. Because our hope is not built upon agreement, but a Savior who loves all the sinners, and outcasts. In hope, our future is not built upon a pastor. Our future is built upon the one who sends us the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain the Church through every challenge. In Hope, we do not enter a community expecting a direct return. We engage the world in love to draw fragmented people into a shared sense of community and life.
Leaving Palm Sunday behind and entering into Holy Week, I invite you to consider how your expectations shape your life. Do they bring joy and fulfillment or a sense of emptiness? If your expectations are not being met, consider turning to hope. Say, “iHope,” and know you are claiming a particular outlook. A view of life based on trust. A trust that God will deliver what God promises.
Click to read Luke 19: 28-40
How have your expectations shaped your life?
Would it be different if your expectations were re-framed by a view of hope?
Where do you find the most profound expression of hope in the celebration of Holy Week?
What can you do to draw your life closer to a sense of hope?