Preached on 14 April 2019 at Church of the Ascension in Seattle, Washington
Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion, Year C
The Stones would shout out!
The Good News cannot be stopped.
Jesus’ message cannot be silenced.
A few weeks ago, we heard, in John’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes warning Jesus, “don’t go to Jerusalem. Herod is set on killing you.” Jesus had gotten word that his friend, Lazarus was very ill, near the point of death.
Jesus goes and raises Lazarus anyway.
That’s when the authorities begin looking for a way to kill him.
Today, we’re hearing from Luke. Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, but he’s not even in the city yet. The crowds of disciples shout their praise, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” All this talk of kings makes the Scribes and the Pharisees very nervous. They’re afraid; this is putting them in danger, too. “Keep it down,” they say, “make your people be quiet.” (Don’t attract attention, or soldiers or violence, is the subtext.)
This reminds me of the scene in the musical, Hamilton. It’s near the beginning when all the main revolutionaries meet Alexander Hamilton for the first time. They’re in a pub, airing their grievances and hopes for a better future. Aaron Burr interrupts them,
“Geniuses, lower your voices
You keep out of trouble and you double your choices.
I’m with you, but the situation is fraught
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
If you talk, you’re gonna get shot!”
Earlier, Hamilton had challenged him, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”
Perhaps that’s Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees when he tells them, “It wouldn’t do any good, if they stop, the very stones would shout!” Jesus’ message of justice and the righteousness of God cannot be silenced.
Jesus knows how this story will have to end.
We know it, too. We heard it today.
Jesus goes into the city and teaches, anyway.
He drives the money-changers out of the Temple, causing a huge commotion. He spends all week teaching in the Temple and telling his disciples what is to come: the destruction of the Temple, the fall of Jerusalem.
The cross is looming, death and destruction are at the door and what does Jesus do with his disciples? He celebrates anyway!
It is the Feast of the Passover. They share the traditional meal, they remember and celebrate God’s saving work in the Exodus from slavery in Egypt; and their journey to the Promised Land.
It’s not just calling to mind an event in history, though, it’s recognizing it as their own personal story, a present story, an on-going story. It’s a story that will take on new meaning for them over the next few days.
It’s a story that has new meaning for us as we contemplate the cross and the empty tomb, yes, but also as we experience and witness the violence and suffering and injustice in our world.
The slow, patient work of God creating a world of justice and peace cannot be stopped. Christ’s message of justice cannot be silenced. Not by the cross, not by violence and oppression, not be destruction or death. “If these were silent, even the stones would shout out.”
The magnitude of the brokenness of the world can overwhelm us. Fear can isolate us, paralyze us, silence us. Community, on the other hand, connection with other people, especially community in Christ – that kind of connection counters the isolation and can overcome the fear that overwhelms, paralyzes, and silences. It can empower us to shout out.
This year, our Lenten program has been a book study. Together, we’ve been reading and discussing the book, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, by Diana Butler Bass. I think all of us learned a lot and some of it has been quite eye-opening.
Gratitude is more than good manners and writing thank-you notes. Deep gratitude moves us outward toward generosity. Being grateful is more than a personal, individual feeling or action. Gratitude always connects us with others. It moves out into community. Bass notes that when we are a truly grateful society, we move toward one that focuses on the common good; the well-being of all.
She writes, “True gratitude cannot remain quiet in the face of injustice.”
Or as Jesus put it, “the stones would shout out.”
In her epilogue, she offers some ideas for becoming a more grateful person and moving toward becoming a more grateful society. The one that caught my attention was this, “Begin before you’re ready.” There is no advantage to waiting until – well, until what?
Other ideas include connecting with others – particularly the choices we make regarding whom we connect with.
Remembering Jesus, remembering that his message of justice cannot be silenced. Remembering what he does even on his way to the cross; what do we choose?
Despite the set-backs and discouragement; despite our fear and isolation,
We begin anyway.
We connect with one another anyway.
We reach out to others anyway.
We speak out anyway.
We celebrate and give thanks in all things, anyway.