In my flower garden this spring, I have learned the difference between joy and happiness.
You see, happiness is getting a bouquet of a dozen tulips from your spouse or from a friend and setting them on the counter for a few days. It warms your heart to be thought of, they are beautiful to look at, and it doesn’t take any work to enjoy them. It is a pleasant surprise, and unexpected wonder. That is happiness.
But joy is “refined and thoughtful,” (in the words of Scott Hoezee) “because it has passed through death.” Joy persists through suffering. Joy persists through doubt. Joy enables us to look at the cross and still shout, “Hosanna!”
And unlike the fleeting happiness of a bouquet of flowers, a bed full of tulips that you dug by hand and then planted with care… and then spent a whole winter waiting for… is a true experience of joy.
There were moments in the waiting where I worried nothing would happen. Maybe I had planted the bulbs too deep. Maybe not deep enough. Maybe the weather did not get cold enough for them to really do their thing. Maybe the squirrels would dig them up. Maybe the nursery I ordered them from was a scam and the bulbs were duds. A thousand different what if’s could flow through your mind in that long time of waiting, watching and hoping.
And then the miracle occurs. The bulbs start to peek out of the ground. The colors start to emerge from the buds. And before you know it, you are caught in the glorious joy of color and life and aroma that sustains much longer than a simple bouquet… and has the calluses to prove the work and the pain and the sweat that preceded it.
This distinction between joy and happiness is important as we think about this Palm Sunday and the Easter Sunday that is close on its heels. Because today, we erupted with singing and happy songs and Jesus is enteringJerusalemand maybe you, like the people on the road that morning, are surprised by the light spirit of it all. You join in and you wave your palm branches and sing with the children and it feels good.
But what we experience on Palm Sunday isn’t costly. It is cheap and easy happiness. It is unexpected. It is a surprise. It is happy… but it is not joyful.
No, the true joy comes with Easter Sunday. The true joy comes after we have done the hard work and walked the long journey to the cross. The true joy comes after we have planted all of our hopes and fears into the tomb… waiting, hoping beyond hope that there just might be a possibility of life in the midst of death. The true joy of Easter is everlasting, sustained, and does not disappoint.
In contrast, this morning will seem like a wilted bouquet of flowers forgotten on the kitchen counter… the happiness of today simply cannot compare. You see, at the same time as we are shouting – Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! We are also saying the word, “Hosanna.” We are crying out for God to save us. We know that the elation we are experiencing is only temporary… we know that there is still work to do.
In fact, ever since I have been here, I have shied away from celebrating Palm Sunday alone. It is too cheery and happy clappy in light of everything that we are about to experience during this next week. And too often, folks will skip straight from the happiness of today to the joy of Easter without experiencing any of the difficult road.
So on most Sundays we have included the Passion texts and have really spent some time with the story of Jesus’ last week. We sat with him through dinner, we pray at Golgotha, we experience his trial and visit Herod, we walk the streets ofJerusalemto the crucifixion. We jam pack it all into one hour on a Sunday morning so that we at least will have had a glimpse of the cost of the grace we are offered.
But this year, we are walking this road with Jesus. Our Lenten devotions this week in particular take us through each of the days this last week of Christ’s life. (And if you haven’t picked one up or used one up until now, feel free to join in for this last week!)
We also have three opportunities to worship and experience Holy Week and to spend time with Jesus. Our usual Wednesday evening worship is at 6:30pm and we will also celebrate Maundy Thursday at 7:00pm in the fellowship Hall and Good Friday with other local churches at Trinity UCC at 7:00pm on Friday night. A carpool will be leaving our church at 6:20 for those who are interested in joining us.
So let’s enjoy today for what it is – a triumphant entry – an unexpected surprise – a momentary glimpse of joy, of hope, a glimmer of happiness.
1) The happiness you experience when you catch a glimpse of someone from God. The people shouted, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” And we too have experienced people in our lives who are from God. Who bless us for a moment or two… who exemplify what it means to reflect the light of God… who have helped to make our days brighter and our roads easier.
2) Catch a glimpse of a way out – a way of peace and not violence. Jesus on the colt vs. Pontius Pilate and a Roman processional coming into Jerusalem.
3) Catch a glimpse of salvation
- Story of the 7th graders from Dr. Scott Black Johnson… big picture we know salvation is about hell/ life and death… but in the meantime, there are all sorts of things we need saving from. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of hope on a tough day… a reminder that Jesus can calm our fears… the feeling of peace in the midst of stress.
These tulips this morning are beautiful… but like our shouts of Hosanna on Palm Sunday they will wither away… they are unexpected and surprising but they are not permanent. Maybe by the end of the week, our cries of Hosanna will turn into cries of “Crucify Him!” Maybe by the end of the week, we will find ourselves at the foot of the cross. Maybe at the end of hte week, we will find ourselves staring into a tomb… but let us walk this last week with Jesus – both the good and the bad – so that we can experience the true joy of Easter Sunday – a joy that lasts… a joy that endures through even suffering… a joy that comes from Jesus.
Amen and Amen.