March 20, 2016 Luke 19: 28-40
Rev. Catherine Purves
We have all celebrated a lot of Palm Sundays. If we could put together all of the palm branches that we have waved over the years, we would each have our own palm tree! We have heard the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem so many times. What we may not have particularly noticed over the years is that the story varies somewhat with each telling. In our minds we have, no doubt, conflated the different versions of this story that are to be found in the four Gospels. With all of our palm waving, we probably never stopped to notice that there are some elements in Luke’s telling of the story that don’t appear anywhere else, as well as some things that Luke, surprisingly, omits.
For example, did anyone notice that palms weren’t even mentioned in today’s reading? And, did anyone miss the shouts of Hosanna that we always associate with Palm Sunday? Luke doesn’t mention either of those things. On the other hand, Luke does include something that appears nowhere else. According to Luke, just as the triumphant crowd was cresting the hill and drawing near to the city, some Pharisees, who were traveling with them, told Jesus to quiet his disciples. That is when Jesus made his peculiar declaration that if his disciples were silent, the stones would shout.
Whoever heard of shouting stones? What on earth was Jesus talking about? He may have been remembering the Old Testament prophesy of Habakkuk (2: 9-11) who wrote this in judgment of Israel, “You have devised shame for your house…you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.” In more recent memory, Jesus may have heard John the Baptist’s harsh denunciation of some people who came to him for baptism, probably also Pharisees (Luke 3:8). “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’” John shouted, “for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” And going back to Luke’s account of Palm Sunday, just a few verses further on, Jesus will predict the destruction of Jerusalem (19: 44). “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” This is the last time the Pharisees are mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. Their fate is sealed. The shouting stones know it, even if they don’t.
This is a rather ominous tone that Luke is inserting into our celebration of Palm Sunday. First, no palms, then, no Hosannas, and now the prospect of judgment and shouting stones. But perhaps Luke is just trying to impress upon us, his readers, the gravity of the situation which would otherwise appear to be a carefree and joyful pilgrimage, a happy parade. Not that he wants to discourage our joyous praise which is to be preferred over the shouting stones, but there is an edge here. A climactic day of reckoning is fast approaching. It will be a day of decision when what we say, and how we say it, and what we fail to say will really matter. The Pharisees were opting for silence, and that is why the stones were shouting.
Luke was a master storyteller, and every element in the unique way that he tells this story is significant. From the lengthy discussion of how they obtained the young donkey on which Jesus rode, to the spreading of the cloaks, to the re-written quote from Psalm 118 where Luke adds the word ‘king’ – every detail matters.
It paints a picture of the arrival of a conquering monarch, his claiming of the city, his supreme authority and rightful rule. And yet, we see this is a king of peace, who did not arrive on a warhorse, but on the colt of a donkey, and he was not being acclaimed by the rich and powerful, but by the poor and those who had seen his deeds of power – not on the battlefield, but in healings and miracles and words of truth. This is a king, but more than a king, whose arrival does not just mean peace on earth through military might, but “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” Here, Luke is echoing the songs of angels that were heard at Jesus’ birth. This was, no doubt, a unique kind of king whose arrival is proclaimed with joyful voices and even shouting stones (if the voices are silent).
Here’s the thing about a parade like this. There are always more spectators than participants. The spectators are having a good time, appreciating the pomp and circumstance of it all, but they are not in the thick of it, shouting out joyfully, “Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord!” and putting their lives on the line as followers of Jesus. The spectators, Pharisees and probably some others, were pretty much uncommitted observers, happy to stay on the edge of the crowd until they saw how events would play themselves out. Then they could declare themselves and join in…or not, if things got risky and if a commitment would ask too much of them. It was safer to stay on the outskirts of this parade and to remain silent. But Jesus would hear nothing of this wishy-washy, cautious, non-committal reticence. “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” We are not called to be spectators. We cannot remain on the outskirts of the crowd. We can’t expect the stones to do the shouting for us.
In addition to joining in a Palm Sunday parade today we are also rededicating the restored downstairs of the church. This celebration has been a long time in coming. And we’re excited about it not just because our refurbished downstairs stones are now beautiful to behold with their fresh paint and shiny new tile flooring. We’re excited because this restored and reclaimed space will be used for important ministry. Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous now have a far better place to meet. Local refugees can attend their Citizenship and Literacy Class downstairs in comfort. Our children’s Sunday School Class will soon move from the cramped quarters of the old Bride’s Room to their own spacious area in the Fellowship Hall. This renovation will allow the renewed stones of our old building to shout out in ministry and service.
But we can’t just let the stones do all of the shouting. Providing space for outside groups is a good thing to do, but in that sort of outreach we are largely spectators on the edge of the parade. It is time to raise our joyful voices and not expect the beautiful stones of our well-loved sanctuary to do all of the shouting for us. We need to get involved. We need to share our faith. We need to invite people to join us. Our lives must shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” We should be inviting others to join our parade. Don’t leave them standing on the sidelines. Urge them to be part of us in our worship and service. And we need to do ministry, not just provide a place where ministry can be done.
A couple of weeks ago a woman came to my office. She wanted to talk to me about joining our church. I was frankly surprised, but, of course, delighted. I realized that I had mistakenly assumed that we would be going into a holding pattern, at least until an interim minister could be found. I guess I was all ready to let the stones do the shouting while we regrouped and reorganized ourselves. But we can’t do that, or the parade will pass us by. This is the time to be looking for new members, it really is! We’ll need new members to help us grow into whatever God has planned for us next. This is the time to reach out to people who have been absent for a while, who are perhaps waiting out the edge of the parade, but who, if asked, would join us again in our praise of our Savior. This is the time to think of new ways that we can use our refurbished space downstairs. This is the time to re-energize the boards of the church so that fresh ideas can gain traction and new ministries can be developed. This is not the time to remain silent. This is not the time to let the stones to do all of the shouting.
So let’s find our voices, and let’s join with our Savior who is still on the move. Let’s all invite others to journey with us on the remarkable adventure of finding out what Jesus is going to do next in our midst. That’s one thing about a parade like this: it doesn’t stand still. You have to keep moving; you have to keep praising God joyfully with loud voices. You have to keep following Jesus. And you have to keep shouting and singing with joyful voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”