A sermon for Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
“If these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
This Lent, we have been moving with Jesus along his path toward Jerusalem, the path to his resurrection. Today he has reached Jerusalem, and this week is about what happened in Jerusalem—that is to say, what it takes to understand and live in Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus has come to Jerusalem, to Bethany, to the home of his friends Martha and Mary and Lazarus. And he gets a colt and has it draped in garments and starts a procession into the city. There was nothing ambiguous about this in the ancient world: a solemn procession with the leader on horseback, greeted by crowds was how conquering kings entered a city. Now, Jesus was on a little donkey—that turned the values of the Roman Empire upside down, but the meaning was clear: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people said that, and it disturbed the religious leaders. “Shut them up, Jesus!”
And Jesus replied that the stones…
Remember at Jesus’ baptism—right before—John the Baptist said that God could raise up the Children of Abraham from the stones? Jesus replied that those stones would cry out if the people were silent. The Kingdom of God was entering Jerusalem—Jesus was bringing the resurrection from the dead into the city. The time had come to acclaim God’s presence with joy.
But the leaders were scared. They had made deals with the ruling powers, and those didn’t take into account the Kingdom of God. It was safe, it kept the forms of religion, and it kept the living God out of it.
Thus commences Holy Week and the final teaching of Jesus. Almost a quarter of the Gospel follows the entry into Jerusalem as Jesus teaches in and near the temple. He has a quiet meal with his disciples, and they learn about his gift of himself, his body and blood. The power of the resurrection in the life of being servants to one another.
We have just gone through it…
What happened? Rodger assigned to me the role of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. What happened with him? He had all the power. Legions of Roman soldiers to enforce any order. Pilate talks to Jesus and what does he perceive? Truth, gentleness, courage, hope. Not a violent revolutionary or a robber. Pilate was a politician and a bureaucrat—he did not want to get involved with the squabbles of these local people—he had no respect for any of them. He tried to pass the buck—the local politician in charge of Jesus’ home region happened to be in town, maybe he would take responsibility? Well…no… Pilate thinks that maybe he can have Jesus whipped, like you do with slaves and others that don’t matter, and just let him go—let the matter drop. But somehow it doesn’t work, the pressure keeps up, there isn’t any way that Pilate can get out of this without consequences. And above all, Pilate did not want to have consequences—he would rather let truth and hope die. He would judge that there had been a crime and pass out the death penalty for it just to avoid the pressure. Just to serve his time and get back to Rome with honor and reward.
Everyone wants to get by without consequences. So the consequences came to rest on Jesus. He was executed on a cross. The people were silent, those that did not taunt him, or call for his death.
And the stone—which the builders rejected—has become the chief cornerstone. The path for the resurrection of Jesus went directly through this rejection—through the rejection of responsibility by every one of us. It is only by the gift of God, the mercy of God that our hearts can be full enough to walk with him in his path of service, and responsibility, and respect. Because there are consequences of living in the truth, consequences for all of us. The freedom of the resurrection is dear, its price is high—and not just for Jesus.
God’s love for us calls us forward, toward the resurrection life: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This week, we walk together with Jesus on his way.
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”