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Palm Sunday Year C 2007

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April 1, 2007

Palm/Passion Sunday, Year C

Old Testament Isaiah 50: 4 – 9b (Pp. 1140-41)

Epistle Philippians 2: 5 – 11 (p.1827)

Gospel Luke 19: 28 – 40 (Pp. 1631-32)


      Summary: The ability to give voice to our spiritual experiences, both in corporate and private worship, is an integral part of the Christian faith.


“If These Stones Could Talk”


      “If only these walls could talk.”

      How many times have you said or heard that? We express this idea about old home places where there are significant family memories. “We had so much fun in this old place – if only these walls could talk they would fell some great stories.”

      We also hear the idea expressed about historically significant locations. Imagine how many times someone has walked through the White House and remarked, “If only these walls could talk.”

      But there is another way to hear the expression, one which provides us an entry point into our biblical text. “If only these wals were allowed to talk.” The connotation here is very different. In the original meaning of the saying there is a clear understanding that the walls cannot talk because it is impossibility for walls to talk. But with this new meaning, the walls might talk if they were allowed to. For some reason, they are silent when they could be speaking. These walls could be telling us important memories, but for some reason they can’t …or won’t.


      As Jesus makes his way into Jerusalem for what will be his final week, he appears to stage a dramatic, acted-out parable. He arranges for his disciples to secure for him a colt. He then deliberately postures himself as the very opposite of Middle Eastern royalty. Instead of gleaming chariots drawn by powerful horses, Jesus arrives on a humble steed. Instead of disciplined soldiers marching in tight formation, spears and shields glistening in the sun, Jesus arrives with a raggedy band of Galilean peasants.

      It also appears, especially in Luke’s version of the entry into Jerusalem, that there is a larger group, more than just the Twelve, who are now following Jesus. Luke describes them as “THE WHOLE MULTITUDE OF THE DISCIPLES.” In spite of the deliberate humble trappings of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, this larger group gets caught up in the excitement of the moment. They may not understand the point that Jesus is making about his own identity, and they may have their own ideas about who he is. Or maybe they do get what he is saying and are filled with joy about his humility. Either way, they begin to raise their voices in shouts of praise. They sing a portion of Psalm 118 which is directed toward God’s anointed – the chosen king: “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD.” The meaning is unmistakable. Jesus followers are hailing him as the Messiah.


      The Pharisees immediately take issue with these activities. They approach Jesus directly and order him to have his disciples cease their praise. The behavior of the Pharisees is revealing. First, it is obvious that they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. If the Messiah was around, these devotees to the Law of Moses would certainly be the first to know it.

Because of that, the Pharisees’ behavior also indicates that they and they alone see themselves as the sole authority on who has the right to give voice to theological ideas. Jesus has presented himself as a rabbi, and as such the Pharisees may be willing to give him a hearing. That certainly was true for Nicodemus. 1(John 3:2).

      But these folks who are praising God because they think their master is the Messiah, these folks are mere disciples, and a dubious group at that. Jesus had drawn around him fishermen and tax collectors, farmers and even women. Clearly this was a group not qualified and therefore not authorized to give voice to any theological ideas.


      Jesus, of course, is immediately aware of the implications, of the behavior of the Pharisees. He has seen religious leaders before use their power and office to silence dissent and even legitimate praise. One of the most striking examples is when, in John’s gospel, the authorities sought to silence a man who was born blind but was given his sight at Jesus’ hand. As the man goes forth giving thanks to God for his sight, he is driven away by those who disagreed with his interpretation of what had happened to him. 2 (John 9: 34).

      The same thing is at work on this first Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ disciples are filled joy and thanksgiving over what they see as the coming of the kingdom of God. The Messiah has arrived and God is about to fulfill all the promises made to Israel by God. Their belief in these things makes it impossible for them to keep silent.

      Jesus tells the Pharisees, in effect, you can’t stop this. If you silence these people then these stones will erupt in praise. If you silence this authentic act of praise and worship, it will bust out somewhere else.

      If only these disciples were allowed to talk!


      A preacher in a small church wanted to come up with a unique way for his congregation to experience Easter. He decided he would enlist the children in the church to help him. The week before Easter Sunday, the preacher went to a local department store and bough bells for every child in the church to have two or three. He tied them together using yarn so that the children could wear the bells around their wrists. He told them that he wanted them to listen very closely to the sermon and every time they heard the word “RESURRECTION,” he wanted them to raise their arms and shake their wrists so that the bells would ring all over the congregation.

      The preacher was delighted as the children entered the sanctuary for the Easter service. The bells could be heard everywhere as the children walked in, arms swinging. And during the sermon it also worked well. Every time the minister said “RESURRECTION,” a chorus of bells would ring throughout the sanctuary. It was obvious that the preacher, the children and everyone in the church thoroughly enjoyed the service.

      But the preacher also noticed that there was occasional unauthorized ringing. A child would forget about the bells and scratch an ear or nose. The bell would ring. A child would wave to a friend, the bell would ring. And sometimes, when the waiting became too much, when “RESURRECTION” was not heard in a timely manner, a bell would ring.

      At the end of the sermon the preacher stopped for a moment and talked about these unauthorized bells ringing. With a broad grin he said, “I guess this proves you just can’t keep the RESURRECTION quiet.”


      The same is true for the disciples on that first Palm Sunday. Though the authorities wanted to keep control of the language of worship, control of the theology of the Messiah, control of the bells of praise --- they continued to ring without authority. The praise would  not be silenced.

      It’s worth asking ourselves what silences our praise and thanksgiving these days. What is it in our world or in our lives that denies us the authority to give voice to what God is doing for us and with us? What inhibits us in prayer? What causes us to sing the hymns of our faith in hushed tones?  What keeps us from praying aloud with our children or with our friend?

      Walter Rrueggemann in his book Finally Comes the Poet argues that the world we live in has been flattened out by dull dry prose. This is the Pharisee-effect, telling us what we can and cannot say. What is needed, according to Brueggemann, is for the church to take on the role of the poet.

      To use daring and provocative prophetic speech that makes the claims of our faith.

      He writes, “The poet/prophet is a voice that shatters settled reality and evokes new possibility in thelistening assembly.” 3 In other words, if only these stones were allowed to speak --- what would we say? What needs to be said? Amen.

1. John 3:2

2. John 9;34.

3. Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).  


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