Even the Stones Would Cry Out
One of the most overused terms of our generation is the word Tension. Tension, as in the space between two points pulling in opposite directions. That place of tension can be social, moral, political, economic and even spiritual, and in its overuse, it signifies a needed or healthy place: The so-called good or healthy tension between those opposites that continue to pull apart... As if the tension is the very thing necessary and needed to keep those opposites in check; the tension, they would say, is the stronghold. The problem is that tension often is not needed, nor does the tension actually hold things together; instead, that center spot is the very space where the break from the stress is about to happen, and because of that, it is most visible. Think about the image of Christ on the cross: The breaking point is where the mercy is found — at the center of the cross. Tension holds nothing together; But tension is a result of stress upon the most vulnerable or obvious spot. Yet, for some reason, this word tension has become a sort of middle ground of understanding the two opposite points. A place of painful tolerance. And because there are so many hard and fast binaries in our world today tugging at the very centers, the only place where we find peace is in the center. But it’s an illusion. See, when we enter in or become the center-point, we are asked to carry and feel that tension. And rather than go to the opposite points and work to ease the tension, we surrender to the tension. As if that’s the place of our last hope. If I had a dollar for every time that concept was used to describe a healthy place in our lives, I could probably buy a summer home on the French Riviera and forget all about it. Palm Sunday It’s Palm Sunday. And here we are with palms in our hands waving them just like those who celebrated Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem 2000 years ago. We shout “Hosanna in the Highest!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the Highest!” The people who had lined the street on which Jesus traveled by colt had no idea who this king really was, yet still they shout “Hosanna!” Which means “Save us!” These are words fit for a king or some royal person anointed with oil who has some means of offering salvation to the people. The Roman prefect to Israel, Pontius Pilate, himself may have entered Jerusalem days or even moments before Jesus did. With his full army, his royal steeds, his entourage… He came to the city for the same reason that thousands and thousands were there on that very day: It was the time of Passover. The feast to remember the God of the Hebrews in his last act against the Egyptian Pharaoh, sends his spirit to kill the first born of every Egyptian family, and completely obliterated by the loss of his own firstborn son, Pharaoh tells Moses “Go away,” and with this final act, the Hebrew slaves are given their freedom. And so, the city’s population had increased dramatically at this time of the sacred Jewish holiday and feast. But Pilate himself was no Jew. He came from Rome most likely to keep the peace by putting on a show of Roman authority and might. It was oppression. I wonder if palms waved for Pilate, or if coats were thrown down to make a path for him. Pilate’s no savior; this Jesus of Nazareth, though… he’s done some remarkable things, the crowd has heard. He’s healed people. Throngs of people follow him now. He even raised a man from the dead! Surely, this Jesus of Nazareth will be the king — the savior, the anointed one (what was called Messiah) — who will save the Jews from Roman oppression! And so we wave our palms as they did! And we lay down our coats to make a sure path for Jesus. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosannah in the highest!” We sing it now, this morning. They sang it on the day of Jesus’s procession into Jerusalem. And the ancient Hebrews sang of it in Psalm 118 a thousand years before the Word became flesh. “Hosannah in the highest.” Tension We might sit here today in our retrospective arm chairs — or pews, as they were — and comfortably think of that tension between Pilate — who represents oppression — and Jesus — who represents the oppressed. See, two thousand years later, we get to look through a different lens than the Jews who were assembled in the streets that day Jesus entered Jerusalem. What we know is that Jesus won. We’re not there yet in our readings and Lenten studies… We’ll save that all for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday… Yet we know the story. They didn’t two-thousand years ago. They were a people oppressed and suffering. And surely this Jesus of Nazareth is more than a prophet now; he’s been anointed by God himself. Even though he’s humble, riding on a colt, with a rag-tag bunch of disciples in tow… something big is going to happen. Can we feel the tension between the forces? Here we have God on a donkey, and the evil of the Roman oppression in armor, pageantry, and steeds. This is how it appears, doesn’t it? What we know, and what Jesus knew, was different from what the Jews and the Romans knew. Because Jesus knows he’s not heading for a fight on the battlefield or a throne in some earthy palace; he’s heading for death on a cross. And there is the real tension. Waving the palms Do we wave our palms for the same reason the Jews were waving theirs as Jesus passes by? No. We shouldn’t. We wave our palms because despite that we know the rest of the story. Jesus is heading toward the place of the skull; Golgotha, the place where he will take upon his shoulders not only a cross beam — as if that wasn’t heavy enough; no, the one who knew no sin is taking onto his shoulders the staggering weight of all of our sins. And we cheer him on as we wave our palms. “Save us.” Imagine the tension that Jesus feels in that moment. His human frame being stressed to its very breaking point as he looks up, sees the throngs of people whom he’ll die for; who are the very same people whom he’ll will die from. The two opposite points struggling to pull farther and farther away are none other than good and evil. Or life and death. In our modern times, how could we possibly diminish or trivialize the anguish of Jesus in this moment by saying that tension was necessary. It was a good thing. Christ’s actions surely were good. And they were necessary to appease our perfect disobedience in sin with Christ’s perfect obedience to God. Again, two opposite points at odds. Nothing happens… I love reading the synoptics here. Matthew’s Gospel says that after Jesus reached Jerusalem, he went into the temple, flipped the tables, then turned around and went back home. Nothing happened. Mark and John just end with the facts: They waved palms. But Luke records a little more. Verse 39: “Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!” The Jewish leaders don’t want to cause commotion, and they certainly don’t believe Christ is the King of the Jews. That, they fear, would usurp what little power they have over the people and under Roman occupation. “Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would cry out.” What does that mean, “…the stones would cry out?” Simply this: At this point, Jesus knows exactly what’s about to happen. And it’s all part of God’s plan. God’s plan will not be denied and cannot be resisted. If the Jews don’t proclaim the Messiah, the rocks and all of creation would proclaim it. Likewise, if we didn’t wave our palms today and shout that Jesus is Lord, that wouldn’t stop God’s will from happening. All of creation cries out for his glory. Laying it down Unlike the synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — Luke says nothing about palm branches. Instead, he focuses on the people laying down their coats as Jesus’s path to glory. Perhaps Luke focuses more on laying down the coats because Jesus will lay down his life for us. In other words, what can we possibly lay down for Jesus? We make a comfortable path for Jesus as he heads to his death. For us. What can we do for him? I admit, I thought about handing out pieces of cloth as coats to lay down and make a path for Jesus rather than handing out palms this morning. Rather than lifting up palms, laying down our coats. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have gone over very well… But we don’t need to usurp a traditional image; but we do have to remember that we do both: As we lift up Christ’s name, we also have to lay down something for him. Maybe we lay down the ways that we live that dishonor God and instead lift up Christ’s name in our communities and world. Maybe we lay down our selfishness and lift up the Church with our acts. Maybe we lay down our lives to lift up those suffering on the margins. Maybe we lay down our preconceptions of what we can do alone and instead lift up what God can do with our lives together. Maybe we finally allow ourselves to be laid down to the death of our old lives and be lifted up in resurrection to a new life that Christ himself died for. See, as we lift up and lay down, there doesn’t have to be tension. They are not opposites pulling apart, but actions bringing together. We are called to follow God’s will: To lift up, to exalt Jesus Christ as Lord. And to lay down our lives for his name’s sake. In the end, whether we lay down or lift up, whether we shout out or keep quiet, whether we deny Christ or proclaim his holy name, let’s get one thing straight: God’s will be done. And it will be done. Even if the rocks have to proclaim it. God’s will be done.