Monday, April 30, 2012

The stones that threaten...

A sermon begun, but never finished and never preached for Palm Sunday...

Palm Sunday, with its rich fullness of palms and entrance rite and the long passion reading, is often misunderstood.  Some turn it into a rally -- not unlike the cheering crowds who gather to support a political candidate.  Some ignore it as if it meant little at all.  Some treat the crowds as the fickle in heart who cry out "Hosanna" one day and "crucify" the next.

Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, complete with cheering crowds and branches of palm, was upsetting -- a challenge to the religious authorities of the time. The salutation of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” was a direct reference to Christ the Messiah and a claim of kingship that was clearly threatening to the status quo. The warning of the authorities (Luke 19:39) is clear, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Christ’s response is often overlooked:  “I tell you that if they were to keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

The implication is that the Palm Sunday welcome was not some spontaneous or unexpected event but one that had prophetic promise and messianic fulfillment.  If the people would have kept silent, the very stones themselves would have been forced to fill the gap and shout "Hosanna" to the coming One who has now come. Inherent in this is the word from Paul of the whole creation groaning in expectation as well as the startling challenge to those who presume to claim Abraham as their father:  "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."   Even more in keeping with the theme is the promise to exchange the hearts of stone for the beating heart of flesh from Ezekiel 36. 

Hidden in this all is the plea.  "Don't make me..."  Like my mother who pleaded for obedience by saying "Don't make me come back there.." so the Lord begs with His mercy for us to hear and heed His Word.  The stones and all of creation call us to faith.  "Don't make me cry out," they beg us.  "Welcome the Son whom the Father has sent...  Let your stone cold hearts be transformed in the beating flesh of life and hope..."  Hidden in the Palm Sunday welcome is the sense that all creation is looking to this moment and in its groaning longs for us to recognize what God is doing (what God has done), and to awaken to His mercy with faith and the voice of praise.  "Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord."

As we sing them each week in the Sanctus, we cannot help but think of the stones.  They beg us to awaken with faith to the great and wondrous mercy revealed to us and for us in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  When we sing in the Sanctus to echo the voices of that Palm Sunday welcome so long ago, we testify to the fact that the Word has done its bidding.  It has called us to faith.  It has enabled us to recognize Him who comes in the name of the Lord and it has called forth in us the words of faith that welcome Him who comes (now in bread and wine).

The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem – His triumphant entry – is the arrival of creation’s liberty and our own freedom from sin's bondage and our captivity to death. Had the people turned away and refused to cheer Christ’s arrival, creation itself would have taken up the chorus.  But now we sing the Sanctus in remembrance of the faithful who called to Jesus when He came mounted on a donkey and in affirmation of the Jesus who still comes riding upon bread and wine to bestow the promised and precious gift of liberty.

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