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Palm-Passion Sunday: The Stones Would Shout

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Z. McNeil, preaching  -- Zion’s Lutheran Church  

Luke 19:28-40; Philippians 2:5-11

“Tell them to be quiet now Jesus, tell them it’s enough!”  “Really, Jesus, tell them, tell them to stop.  The Romans won’t look kindly on us Jews if this gets out of hand now, will they?  And, Jesus, are you listening?  Jesus, this crowd is growing too large, and they could get out of control…The Romans expect us to keep ourselves under control when we fill the city at the holidays…Jesus, are you listening?  Get up off that little workhorse.  We get your drift, it’s not very subtle at all--do you think the Romans won’t get it too?  Stop your little parade before it gets us all in trouble.   Order these people to stop! 

It was Sunday-the first day of the Passover holiday week.  Jesus and his friends, like thousands of others had made their way to Jerusalem- the best place to be for the holiday.  It was where faithful Jews all wanted to be able to worship at the temple with Jews from all over the nation.  What joy to be in Jerusalem for the holiday celebrating God’s freedom, God’s justice, and God’s salvation.   Jesus and his friends had arrived earlier on the outskirts of the city and were staying in the little town of Bethany with their friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  And on the first day of the Passover week, they headed into the city.  Perhaps to go to the temple, Maybe, just to see who else was there, to see who all had come from all over the nation to spend the holiday there.  Maybe they went into the city from the outlying village to make arrangements for a place where they’d be able to have their holiday Seder meal later in the week. Jesus and his friends, Judas, Peter, and John and the others who’d walked together all the way from their homes in the Galilean north, each of them was there with his own sense of expectation.  Maybe a few even had an inkling of gloom.  And Jesus, always the teacher, was ready to teach, not in so many words, but in his actions so he sent his friends for a colt.  

The Romans liked to ride into town in a mighty military procession from the west side of the city.  Coming into town from their palaces by the sea they would ride big white warhorses, and make a big show of their weaponry and might. Put a little fear of force into the populace. Remind them all who was boss. So, Jesus, coming in from the east side, from the villages of the peasants, the hard-working, the powerless, made a show of his entrance into the city as well.  And the people ate it up, laughing, taking branches from the trees, throwing down their coats in delight, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Hosanna!” 

Their shouts were not for the Roman occupier, not for the Jewish officials who kept them all under control- their shouts were for the teacher from Galilee!  A man who taught humility, love, and healing.   A man whom they’d heard of not because of his power to Lord it over them, but because of the power of his compassion.  As they made their way down the hill from Bethany, the crowd around Jesus grew.  This wasn’t a show of force, this was a mighty force of folks who were nobodies to the Romans, but everybodies to Jesus.  His followers who traveled with him, his friends from the village there, children, women and men and their friends, and soon others joined the throng.  Down the steep hill and across the valley, and up the road they paraded to the walled city itself.  The smells and sounds of the city filled the air and their shouts rang out.  Folks inside the city’s walls heard the swelling sound from outside.  

The Jewish leaders posted at the city gates saw the throng coming from Bethany…saw the parade and looked over their shoulders to see if the Romans were seeing it too.  “Jesus, that’s enough!” Don’t keep this up when you get inside the city.  It’s too crowded in there. The streets are too narrow!  Don’t make a show – they might see it as disrespect. 

     Ah! Jesus laughed as he said what was obviously true -- he couldn’t silence the crowd if he tried!  His wasn’t a one-man band, this was a group project. And if by some miracle he could silence his followers, the joy of freedom, the promise of redemption, the power of compassion would shout from the stones themselves!  The creative, accepting, all-embracing love of God was more powerful than any authority on earth.  

    This was obvious to Jesus, but perhaps not quite so obvious to others.  Judas, for instance; Judas wanted Jesus to ride in from the East on a Warhorse of his own.  Showing himself as a rival, as an equal, as an “in your face, Rome” force countering the empire. Judas had followed Jesus, and what he heard in Jesus’ teachings was echoes of his own hope for a rabble-rouser who would come and overthrow the oppressors of the Jews; a leader who would wrest control from those who were forever keeping a lid on the tinder-box of their existence.  Judas followed Jesus that day and perhaps he didn’t shout.  Too lost in his own thoughts, his own internal wrestling might have kept him from shouting “hosanna,” from hearing the shouts of the pilgrims as answers to his prayers.  Jesus had been so sharp, so perceptive, so wise in his responses to the Jewish leaders along the way, but he wasn’t riled up enough- he didn’t seem to have a plan.  He needed to have a plan…and instead, he rode into the city on a beast of burden.  But, if Judas didn’t shout Hosanna, the rocks rang out in his place that day.  

     But, Peter, surely Peter “the Rock” didn’t need the stones to shout out.  He was in the front of the Parade.  Leading the hosannas!  Shouting the hoorays!  Helping the children cut the branches, laughing along the way.  Peter loved his Jesus.  He loved what he had to say, loved what he taught, loved how he cared and shared and preached and taught them how to pray.  Peter’s shouts rang out as they climbed the hill to Zion. But what he didn’t understand that day was what the shouts would cost them, the price that they would pay for standing up and standing out in Jerusalem that way.  And by the end of the week, on Thursday, even Peter’s loud hosannas turned to whispered prayers and quiet denials, and bitter tears.  

    And so, for each who followed Jesus through that week that began with hosannas, it was a week of wrestling, of wondering, wrestling with themselves and wondering how they would allow Jesus to change them, wrestling with issues of life and death, love and truth, peace and prosperity.  Wondering, what did it all mean?  How should they respond?  What should they think?  What should they do? 

Together for the Palm parade, by the end of the week, only a few of that crowd remained. But it was enough. It was good enough. The miracle of God’s undefeatable love didn’t rest on any one disciple alone. Not on fervent Judas, not on loyal Peter. Though his followers scattered by the end of the week, It wasn’t long before the Risen Christ brought them back together again. The Roman Empire with its mighty military men and show of force is no more. (Though other Empires have arisen in its stead) But this movement, this Jesus movement of compassionate love, of peace passing understanding of wide-open welcome and embrace of all peoples, of all orientations, of every race, this parade lives on even in us. We know the rest of the story, though they had scattered, the women, the ten, the two on the road to Emmaus, Thomas…Christ brought them together again. 

For each of us may this Holy Week be a week of wrestling, of wondering. Which parade are we part of? The patriotic parade of Empire or the messy, spontaneous, joyous freedom and forgiveness parade following humble, gracious Jesus riding on a colt? And, if we’re with Jesus, how will we allow Jesus to change us? What will we make of questions of life and death, love and truth, peace and welcoming community? What does Jesus mean to us? How will we respond? What do we think? What will we do? 

My friends, how we answer those questions matters, but remember, the good news of the Gospel doesn’t rely on any one of us alone, the work of Zion’s Lutheran Church doesn’t depend on any one of us getting things right all the time. For, if we mess up, when we mess up, if our energy lags, if our faithfulness is more like faithlessness, if we’re only so-so followers of Jesus, ours is a group project, and when we are weak someone else will be strong. When we are wrong, someone will direct us to what is right.  And if all of us flee and fail and fall all apart, all these rocks around us, all these foothills and mountains are still going to shout God’s never-ending love. And the risen Christ will forgive and will call his church back together again. And through God’s power, that would be good enough.  Amen?