THE STONES WOULD SHOUT OUT
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There’s a relatively new phenomenon whereby when people in authority are making an announcement or having some sort of rally, there are markers which characterize the event. Commonly these markers include the person making the announcement being surrounded by members of his or her party and or various stakeholders involved in the announcement. I suppose it makes it look like a big deal. The other thing that you commonly see is a line of flags behind the person. So many flags – like 10 or 15 of them all lined up and arranged just so. I often wonder who arranges them so perfectly. All to mark the gravity, the momentousness, the authority of the occasion.
We are marking an occasion here this morning, as we do every year at this time. When we consider Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – commonly called “The Triumphal Entry”, we might tend to mix together all the ways that it is described in all four Gospels. The large crowd who came out of the city spreading their cloaks on the road and cutting branches from trees and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” in Matthew. The whole city was in turmoil when he entered. John describes the crowd coming out of the city to meet Jesus waving branches of palm trees and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”
This morning let us attend to the story as Luke tells it. The story that we’ve been following throughout these weeks of Lent. Let us ask for God’s help as we do so.
This is where the story has always been heading of course. Jerusalem. Jesus sends two disciples ahead of him as they approach Jerusalem. We read back in Luke 9 that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. It reminded us of that verse in Isaiah. I have set my face like flint. He sent messengers ahead of him then too. Seventy of them. Two by two. He and his followers have been walking. They’re just east of the city now, bear Bethpage and Bethany. Jesus instructs two disciples to go into the village ahead of them, where they will find a colt that had never been ridden. He tells them what to do if they are questioned. Just say “The Lord needs it.” Divine foreknowledge or Jesus making arrangements beforehand? We can’t really say for sure, but the point is this – this is all part of God’s plan. Jesus is enacting the plan.
He is entering Jerusalem as King. He’s riding a colt that had never been ridden. Shades of the Zechariah 9:9 prophecy, though Luke never explicitly mentions it. Cloaks are being spread out on the ground – again something that would be done to welcome a king. Look at what is not mentioned here (despite the fact that we’ve been waving palm branches about and putting them in our guitars and so on). Palm branches. I said at the beginning of this sermon that there are certain markers that we’re used to when political announcements are being made. Markers that denote power and authority. For Luke’s readers, the mention of palm branches would have evoked memories of other triumphant events that had to do with the national interest. The story of Judas Maccabeus. Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus. The priest/son of a priest who led a revolt against the Seleucids years before. He went on a military campaign of conquest. When he entered Jerusalem and restored worship at the temple the occasion was marked with palm branches. His brother Simon entered Jerusalem triumphantly and the people waved palm branches. Hail the conquering hero!
This king is, of course, a different kind of leader. This king who enters on a lowly colt rather than a battle-tested charger. This is the king who will soon say “No more of this” when the question if asked “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” and at least one weapon is drawn and used. “Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace” is what we sing at Christmas. A different kind of leader. It is as if Luke is taking pains for us not to associate Jesus with what the world considers acts of power. His march toward Jerusalem has not been a march of conquest, town after town falling before him.
His march toward Jerusalem has looked like something else entirely. He’s been performing deeds of power of course. Deeds of reaching out with compassion. Deeds of mercy. Deeds of forgiveness. Deeds of healing. Deeds of new life. Deeds of healing and liberation. This scene is for followers of Jesus. They’re joyful. They’re praising God together as they go along the road for all the deeds of power they have seen.
There is no row of flags behind this leader. There is not even a hint that political power is what is being sought here. There is a crowd with him though. It’s a specialized crowd and they have one thing in common. They have committed to follow him. There are things they have yet to understand. They will fail him. They will find forgiveness. Does this remind us of anyone we know?
This is their cry – “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Taken from the song of ascents sung for pilgrims to the temple. Psalm 118:26. Here comes THE pilgrim par excellence. The one who not only goes alongside but the one to call king.
Which brings us to the question that is ever before us when we consider Jesus. What are we going to do with this king? Is he the one we are going to follow? Is he the one we were waiting for or is there still one to come? Is he the one who is the answer to all we had hoped for, all we had feared? Their response is yes. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness and justice and wholeness. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven. Echoing the angels' song from the Christmas story. Peace on earth. Peace in heaven. A redemption plan that is for all of creation.
What are we going to do with this plan?
The disciples show one response. Another response comes from some of the Pharisees in the crowd. It’s possible that they might have been following along with Jesus since Luke 13 when they warned him about Herod. They say “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
This is the other response to what’s going on. Order your disciples to stop. We’re not sure why these Pharisees are saying this. They might not want Jesus to be stirring the pot with their Roman overseers. There may be self-interest involved here. They might be worried about Jesus’ personal safety. They may just not believe. There are reasons to not be a part of this crowd who are calling out about their king. It might mean too much stirring the pot. It might mean too much shaking up our personal interests. It might be concern for well-being. It might be straight up disbelief. What kind of sense does 'those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it mean anyway?' What kind of sense does 'love your enemies make?' Do good to those who hate you? Bless those who curse you? Pray for those who abuse you make?
If you’ve been following Christ for any length of time you know the answer. All the sense in the world. If you’ve been following Christ for any length of time you know that in Christ we have found life. So we praise God joyfully.
We join in. Or we don’t.
Either way, the plan goes on. The plan has been in the works for a while. Jesus announced the plan. Jesus announced it as he went. “I must…” All those things were part of the plan and what is going to happen in Jerusalem is part of the plan too. It’s going forward and the promise that one day the kingdom of God will be fulfilled is part of the plan too. “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out!” The stones would shout out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” There is no silencing this news. There is no wrecking this plan. The very stones would cry out. We’re reminded that this plan is for all of creation. The geologists among us will be happy to hear this!
I’ve said many times before that we should not miss Good Friday. We should not go from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter without missing the sorrow of Good Friday. We should not pass by this Friday without drawing nigh to Jesus. No matter what Friday looks like for us though we go from exaltation to sorrow in our passage today. Jesus laments. Jesus weeps. The man of sorrow. Jerusalem would not choose the way of peace. Some 40 years later the city would be surrounded by Roman siege works. The city would be destroyed. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the thing that makes for peace.” We might say the same thing as we look around our world. We might say the same thing as we look at ourselves. Someone has described lament like this – “A lament is a voice of love and profound caring, of vision of what could have been and of grief over its loss…of personal responsibility and frustration, of sorrow and anger mixed, of accepted loss but with energy enough to go on.”
We lament what might have been for our world, for ourselves, not in despair, but knowing rather what Jesus is going to accomplish on the cross. We go on with Jesus through Holy Week with energy enough to go on. We’ve followed Jesus this far. Let us follow him to the cross. As we do and lament what might have been, we are invited to dream of what might be – to take part in what might be. May these things stay with us this week as we journey toward Calvary.