Luke 19: 28-40
There are some condominiums I have been in along Atlantic Avenue that have windows that face east, and other windows that face west. Imagine having a camera set up in one of those condos, set with time lapse photography. Instead of a day taking 24 hours, now we will set it to just last an hour. At the beginning of this service, the sun will be coming up on a Jesus who is headed to Jerusalem, and the crowds around him sense excitement! “This is the one! This is the one who is coming in the name of the Lord! Save us!” they exclaim with their word “Hosanna.” So the sun rises on a group, growing in number, that begin making plans. Actually, it seems, plans have been made ahead of time according to what we read in Luke. One man put it this way:
Our Gospel reading for Palm Sunday begins like an espionage novel. Jesus draws two of his followers aside. He gives them this mission: “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, “The Lord needs it.” The two disciples go and find the colt. The question is asked, and the password is given. The Lord needs it. It’s an odd beginning to an odd story. [Ron Adams, in the Christian Century, March 27, 2019, p. 18]
This plan must have some symbolic meanings. What grown man really chooses to ride a colt that has never been ridden before down a hill, riding not on a saddle, but on slippery garments? And the crowds are throwing cloaks on the ground in front of the colt? It seems like a recipe for disaster. But from what we know about Jesus, anything is possible, and this ride comes off without a hitch. (Returning to the time-lapse camera illustration: now the sun is up; birds are singing, a new day has begun, and all is right with the world. How do we know that?) In Psalm 19, David declares:
The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours fourth speech, and night to night declares knowledge….Their voice goes out to through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Did you hear it? Just as God created the world in Genesis, not with a magic wand; nor with bare hands, but with speech; and breath, and Spirit, God said: “Let there be light, and there was light.” Creation was made by a holy invitation, and it was so! David has been taught, and passes on to his worship leaders, those words to be declared in their holy services; not just to be read with one’s eyes, but to be declared with one’s mouth: All nature speaks in praise of God! The rustling trees speak in praise of God! The babbling brook speaks in praise of God! God endowed nature, it seems, with the ability to offer praise by simply being, and exuding sound. David knew that as he said (beautifully captured in Haydn’s masterpiece of music, called ‘The Creation”) “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” And so they are. Jesus’ words no longer seem as strange, about stones talking, even though the Pharisees scolded Jesus about it. As the noise from the crowd grew louder and louder, they said: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” And Jesus, in his joy, said something that now makes perfect sense. At the beginning of that new day, with all its possibilities, Jesus said (and I’m reading it from the Phillips Modern Translation): “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the very stones in the road would burst out cheering!” [Luke 19:40] Stones talking! Who besides God has ever suggested such a notion? I’ll tell you one person who mused about it: author Annie Dillard, who, when she wrote her book Teaching a Stone to Talk in 1992, R. Buckminster Fuller, wrote that she transcended “all other writers of our day.” Her descriptive powers ooze from the writings in her books. In the one I just mentioned, she wrote:
The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff … is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk. Wisecracks on this topic abound, as you might expect, but they are made as it were perfunctorily, and mostly by the young. For in fact, almost everyone here respects what Larry is doing, as do I …..It is, in fact, I assure you, a stone. It is—for I have seen it—a palm sized oval beach cobble whose gray is cut by a band of white….He keeps it on a shelf.
[HarperPerinnial, 1992, p.
I read this book years ago, but this week I was reminded of it again. Would we wisecrack about God teaching all nature to sing? Today, can we believe, perhaps in a new way and with a higher consciousness, that “Jesus is right! The stones could cry out!” All nature is ready to praise in this orchestrated, almost espionage story in Luke’s Gospel; a grown man actually sits on and rides a colt never ridden on by anyone else and urges the animal to precariously walk down a hillside. Disciples and curious onlookers join the cries. Perhaps they had hope in Jesus, or perhaps they just loved upsetting the Pharisees. On that Palm Sunday long ago, a man rode toward Jerusalem on a colt instead of a steed, and stones were ready to talk! Or perhaps on this day, our ears and hearts are uniquely open to hearing them! Would they say a word? Would they sing? Would the wind rustle by them causing people to hear something like “Blessed! Blessed! Blessed?”
This is a day of real possibilities as the sun starts to head toward noon. For after all of this unbridled celebration, Jesus comes near Jerusalem, and he stops, and he weeps, not for joy, but for sorrow. There is an historic marker on that hill even to this day. Jesus wished that the city, the name of which means “City of Peace,” would know the things that make for peace. I wonder if Jesus looks at Jerusalem today, or even at our nation today, and still weeps, saying, “If only today you knew the things that make for peace.”
The joy of that first Palm Sunday morning got blanketed with human darkness; of suspicion; of name calling. Jesus sealed his own fate when he then turned over the tables of the moneychangers just before the biggest annual weekend for the city. The handwriting was on the wall; and darkness began to fill the hearts of men who started plotting against Jesus. Today, I wonder if a Jesus who still wants peace for Israel, America, and other nations is still weeping, in part because he can no longer hear stones cry out, or nature singing. The still small voice of God, described in 1 Kings 19 is being drowned out by the cacophony of crowd noises, and mobs, and neighbors shouting at neighbors. God is still speaking, as is the creation. But some aren’t listening for God’s words. And some just can’t hear nature singing or speaking anymore. They have given up hope of hearing from God in our world of pain. But God and nature were there on Palm Sunday two thousand years ago; and God speaks still. The great mysteries of God are ours to consider, but to never fully explain or understand. Listen to what Billy Collins—the United States poet laureate from 2001 -2003—said about one of the classic mysteries of the divine:
Of all the questions you might want to ask about angels, the only one you ever hear is how many can dance on the head of a pin. No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time besides circling the Throne, chanting in Latin or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth, …. Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing? …What are their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes, their diet of unfiltered divine light? What goes on inside those luminous heads? [Sailing Around the Room, Random House, New York, 2001, p.
This week, this morning, there is joy! Even creation feels it! But like other situations in life, things are changing. The sun is setting on Jesus’ joy. What a drama! This week, as this day grows darker, will you join Jesus on his journey?
Let us pray: We move into this week Lord, from a procession to a cross. In a sense, we will go with you. A visit to the upper room, and to Calvary, has changed people’s lives for generations. Perhaps it will change people again this week. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 14, 2019