Yr C ~ Palm Sunday ~ Luke 19:28-40
To begin, did anyone notice that in Luke’s version of Palm Sunday there are a couple of things missing – like palms? If we only had Luke’s version we’d have to call this story something else. Maybe Parade Sunday, or Cloak Sunday. In Luke’s version the people laid cloaks before Jesus but didn’t wave palm branches. Maybe the detail doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough to acknowledge that somehow Jesus’ arrival at the city of Jerusalem for Passover that year created quite a stir.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what Jesus and his disciples are doing as they parade into Jerusalem for Passover is political theatre. There are crowds, cheering, a passionate exchange of ideas, and the entire act itself is making a big statement.
The details vary depending on which gospel you read this story in. For Luke’s version, other than there being no palms, the really interesting thing is the crowd. I want to say two things about this crowd – one of which might shift how you read the whole story!
Verse 37 says: As [Jesus] was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.
Did you catch that? Who is making up this crowd? It says “the whole multitude of disciples!” A multitude of disciples! Not just 12, not just a bunch, but a multitude. I think our typical view of the story is that the crowd was made up of a throng of curious onlookers who heard a commotion and came to see what the fuss was about. But Luke suggests it was a multitude of disciples accompanying Jesus – followers filled with the Spirit and being unashamedly demonstrative about it.
Does that change the way you see the story? How about this? – If you were a Roman soldier or a Pharisee and you saw a random crowd gather you might worry a bit – but if you saw a multitude of disciples descending on the city raising a ruckus I’m pretty certain your guard would be up and you’d be ready for action.
Here’s a question for you. If Jesus were to appear today and start parading toward a city to make some kind of point would you be a curious onlooker? Would you be part of the parade laying down your cloak, singing songs of praise to God, and marching toward the powers that be? I wonder.
Ok, now we get to the really juicy stuff! Listen carefully to verse 39:
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
Did you catch that? Where does Luke suggest the Pharisees were? In the crowd! Not standing apart and looking down judgingly but in the midst of the crowd – the crowd of disciples! The suggestion here is that Jesus had some Pharisees as his disciples! Wow!
The story works perfectly well either way – whether the Pharisees were apart from the crowd or within it. What changes is the tone. If those Pharisees were disciples in the crowd then when they say “Teacher, order your disciples to stop” it isn’t an authoritative command from on high – it’s a heartfelt plea from within. The tone changes from angry judgment to friendly concern. Who better than Pharisees to understand that such a rowdy display was likely to seriously ruffle the feathers of the authorities.
However you interpret that one thing is certain. As Jesus entered Jerusalem he encountered opposition – maybe from without, maybe from within, but nonetheless, opposition. How did he respond?
The answer Jesus gives is so great.
Verse 40: He answered, “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
When you run into opposition, when your living in the Kingdom of God puts you in conflict with the ways of the world, how will you respond? – because if you are a person who practices following the Way of Jesus you will most definitely run into opposition from the world! You’ll get opposition from the powerful for whom Jesus’ Way lays bare their greed and lack of ethics. You’ll get opposition from society who looks at us strangely as mistaken or quaint. You’ll get opposition from friends and family members who think you follow some stereotypical version of Christianity like they see on TV, but they won’t give you the chance to have a dialogue about what you really believe (or you won’t try for fear of upsetting people).
And you’ll even get opposition from within yourself as our humanness intrudes and we wonder if maybe all those other people are right and we’re crazy. (We’re not, by the way. Just sayin’.)
So when opposition from the ways of the world comes in all those various forms think about what Jesus said in verse 40 here. He answered, “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
You might be able to see Jesus clearly, to perceive God’s Presence and be in wonderful harmony with it, practicing every day and enjoying the abundant life being present provides. But the sad, harsh reality is that as you’re doing this and living this way you are going to encounter the naysayers, and powers, and principalities of the world, and they will stop you cold in your tracks and insist that you’re wrong, and stupid, and wasting your time. They apparently can’t sense Presence so they cannot comprehend what you’re experiencing, and your attitude frankly frightens them because you seem to be accessing a peace and power they cannot fathom, so they fight you.
So Jesus tells them about the stones crying out. Jesus says, “Fight all you like but you’ll never silence us because what we’re connected to is so real we know ourselves to be utterly interconnected with everything and everyone – even nature, even you who would oppress us. Even the rocks and stones will bear witness to the Presence of God and cry out in praise!”
Even the rocks and stones bear witness to God and cry out in praise. Even the birds of the sky and the flocks in the fields. Sun, moon, shining stars (Psalm 148). The mountains and hills burst into song. The trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55). The heavens are telling the glory of God.
It ain’t just the stones shouting! All creation is constantly singing God’s praise.
Maybe that’s a bit too poetic though. Maybe we need something a little more grounded. Can I give any examples of stones crying out God’s presence recently? Why yes I can.
I know it’s been a couple of years now, but think back to the beginning of this pandemic when we really didn’t understand what was going on and we really did feel like we were under lockdowns, afraid to go out and interact. When we ventured out for walks, what did we see? Stones with messages of hope, and support, and encouragement – just randomly left under trees, and beside walkways. Wouldn’t you say those stones were screaming out God’s loving presence?
I carry a prayer stone in my pocket. Every single time I put my hand in that pocket and touch that stone it cries out and sings of God’s loving presence. Don’t tell me the stones aren’t shouting. They are!
Luke 19:40 Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
The stones are doing their part. And so is the rest of creation – loudly and constantly singing of the glory of the presence of God. Jesus was right. But what about “these disciples”? Are we doing our part? Are we joining the parade and singing God’s praises?
Actually, the Greek word in v.40 that’s translated as ‘shout’ or ‘cry out’ is a special word that more means to shriek – as in the shriek of a raven. So the question isn’t ‘are you singing about God’ – it’s more like shrieking!
So, have you done any shrieking about your faith lately? Is that your thing? Are you a shrieker? I highly doubt it. You probably love that classic hymn, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love!” Loving. Sounds like acting, not shrieking.
And then there’s that old saying from St. Francis that mainline churches have grabbed onto so gleefully. It goes, “Preach the gospel daily; use words if necessary!” Lots of us hear that and think, “Great! That means I can just do actions and never have to say a word about my faith to anyone.” Not quite. It might even be upside down! We’re missing a level of subtlety here. Franciscans were preachers. St. Francis was likely trying to tell his preaching friends that words, which they always used, weren’t the only way to communicate the gospel. We’ve kinda got the opposite problem.
So my task is to turn a bunch of wonderfully faithful but evangeli-phobic church-folk (y’all), into shriekers!
I know. Good luck with that.
But obviously I don’t really mean to have you go around shrieking at people. That would be ridiculously counter-productive. And that’s not the kind of shrieking Jesus meant. He meant that kind of sound that comes from the very depth of your being, and is so passionate, and so meaningful, and so overwhelmingly wonderful that it just comes out like an inarticulate shout of deep emotion from way down in your guts in a growly sound mixed with strong exhalation. Allow me to demonstrate: (ahem) Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!! J
And no, I don’t mean that you should be going around going Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!! at people either.
Them: “Hi, how are you today?”
Them: “Why yes, I’d love to come to your church!”
Probably not the way that conversation would end!
What does any of this have to do with Jesus riding a donkey, entering the gates of Jerusalem for Passover and kicking off our Holy Week? Have you ever heard the phrase “live out loud”?
It means being your real self, your true self, being genuine and open. Living on purpose, loving others and yourself, living passionately for your values, no matter what. Letting others see your light shine, and not being scared to be different or worry about others opinions of you. Living out loud means living a life you’re excited about, with purpose, on your terms. Inspiring others to do the same.
It means to live your values or your Way regardless of the consequences. That doesn’t mean you expect to live without consequences. Just the opposite. It means that you live that passionately ethical and counter-cultural life knowing that it will bring conflict when it exposes and embarrasses those wielding the ways of the world for their own gain, and still doing it regardless of that because you must. Because you’re committed. Because you have experienced the love of God, felt its transformational power, and are convicted that sharing that love with everyone and everything you encounter is worth any consequence that might come.
Now does it sound like Jesus at the gates? That parade. That bit of carefully planned street theatre. The symbolism of the counter-parade.
That is Jesus living out loud.
That is Jesus shrieking – while barely saying a word.
That is Jesus going “Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!!”
And the people, and even the stones, were going Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!! in harmony with him.
It’s Holy Week. There are 4 opportunities to worship this week to enter into the story of Jesus’ last earthly days.
Maundy Thursday is being pre-recorded and will be on our YouTube channel.
Good Friday morning is here in-person and online.
Then there’s Easter Sunday at Sunrise in the garden,
and Easter Sunday worship here in this space and online next Sunday.
How will you live this Holy Week out?
Will you resist the ways of the world and carve out this ‘extra’ time for your spiritual journey in this holiest of weeks in our year?
Regardless of the consequences of what people might think, will you live your faith out loud this week?
Will you do more than just tune in or attend, and actually have a conversation with someone about why you’re doing it?
Will you risk that?
Will you walk through the Jerusalem gates alongside Jesus, come what may?
Jesus and his Kingdom of God’s Presence and Love is about to clash with the kingdoms of the world, with devastating consequences.
The parade has begun. It’s shrieking time. Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!!