A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
April 8, 2017
You get extra Jesus points for coming to Palm Sunday worship on Saturday night. We joke about traditions and how sacred they can be, but we know there are good reasons for tradition. I’m grateful to serve with people who recognize the truth of Gustav Mahler’s quote:
“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
Hopefully we can keep the fire alive as we worship together this evening.
More than worshipping on Saturday, though, the Narrative Lectionary has us in Luke’s gospel for Palm Sunday. I’m not sure how many of you noticed this when the passage was being read, but what was missing from this story? Anyone catch it?
Luke doesn’t report anything at all about the crowd waving palms. Luke’s Palm Sunday account is bereft of palms. Cloaks on the colt. Cloaks on the road.
Welcome to Cloak Saturday Worship! A new tradition.
Regardless of the variations in when we celebrate it, and how Luke records the details, the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is largely similar across the gospel accounts.
It’s a story of subversion. Jesus offers a counter spectacle to Roman military leaders’ parades, displays of military power, tomahawk missiles, gold shields and armor.
Jesus rides in on a colt, with crowds cheering for a different way of being in the world. Humility. Weakness. Disarmed. Vulnerable. Heading toward a victory that involves death on a cross.
And we’re told a multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully, with a loud voice, for all the deeds of power they had seen.
Is “multitude” the word for a “flock” of disciples? Like a “murder” of crows” or a “congress” of owls? For me, a multitude of the disciples brings to mind the “multitude of the heavenly host” who sang at the birth of Jesus.
We know there were more than 12 disciples. But a multitude of the disciples makes me wonder who all was in the crowd, singing praise to God.
Did it include some of the people who were the recipients of Jesus’ deeds of power?
The no longer bent over woman, healed and standing tall.
Jairus and his daughter.
The persistent woman.
The blind man whose sight was restored.
Ten former lepers, now cleaned and back in society.
The little children, ignored by society but welcomed by Jesus.
So many deeds of power.
A multitude of the disciples, on the side of the road, loudly singing and praising God because of all they had seen.
And then the sweet Pharisees. Bless their hearts. “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”
Just what, do we imagine, Jesus, or anyone could do to silence a multitude of people who are frenzied into loud praise because of their own experience of grace, and mercy, and love?
I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.
The loud, mob-like, cheering crowd will not be silenced by Jesus. There may be other places in the gospel accounts where he tells people to be quiet. The time for that is past.
As he enters Jerusalem, and heads to the cross, we realize now is the time to talk, to praise, to notice the shouting stones.
The shouting stones also call to mind the Temple in Jerusalem, which will be destroyed. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem as he looks over toward it from the Mount of Olives.
Here’s a picture of me in 2006 at a similar point, looking toward Jerusalem. Just to the left of the gold dome is the site of the remains of the Temple, which would have dominated the skyline as Jesus looked, and wept, and said to the city:
‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
The stones that were shouting with joy are now weeping, being crushed to the ground, and coming apart, one stone no longer upon another.
If only we had recognized on this day the things that make for peace.
I don’t even know how to respond to that accusation, that truth, from Jesus. While the news this week was not great in regard to the “things that make for peace”, I recognize it is not a new development for us. No matter who is in the White House, or who the “enemy of the day” is, we are notorious for seeking peace by waging war.
We increase our budgets for military might while decreasing our budgets for acts of welcome and humanitarian assistance.
How quickly the refrains of joy are joined by the harmony of weeping.
As you may know, Luke is not my favorite gospel of the 4, but I appreciate Luke here. He doesn’t get away from the fact that this is a dark story. The praise of the multitude is what marks the entry to Jerusalem. It frames the story of the cross. It reminds us of Jesus’ birth. Jesus was born to do these deeds of power. And the consequence of it all is the unjust arrest, trial, and crucifixion at the hands of an occupying power.
This story reminds us that often the moments where our joy is found are often deeply connected to those moments we wish we could do without, those moments of pain and weeping.
They are not unrelated. They are deeply connected.
The broken, painful moments are often the experiences that lead us to appreciate gift and blessing.
I am not saying God causes bad things so we will appreciate good things. Or that we have to go through horrible, crappy times in order to have blessings.
I’m saying life isn’t lived in isolation, or in segments unconnected, one from another.
I have heard you share stories of where it is true in your own lives. The women at their monthly gathering have been taking turns telling stories of joy they have had in their lives. One of the “rules” is that they cannot share about the day they got married or the days their children were born. Many of the stories, including one told this week, were of moments of joy that came alongside a moment of pain, fear, or loss.
I was talking recently with a friend about my experiences meeting my birth mother and going to my son’s wedding. Both were wonderful things that I would not trade for anything. Both had moments of pain and bittersweet emotion too. I told my friend that to many of those good and important moments in my life, the price of admission is a broken heart.
It’s a price I’m grateful to be able to pay, and what comes back to me 100 fold is beauty, joy, and love. But none of that erases the broken heart. My friend replied with “that’s the title of your memoir.” And she’s right. The Price of Admission is a Broken Heart. (for real. Trademark. Copyright. Get your own title. That one is mine).
The price of admission to the gift of Easter is the broken heart of Holy Week. And Luke understands that.
As we enter Holy Week this year, we enter with praises of joy and cries of despair. This is the gift of our faith, in truth. We are both the joyful people of God, and the broken body of Christ.
Those two identities cannot be separated. Attend to voices who try to do that, voices who try to compartmentalize the world in which we live.
—People who tell us that if we are faithful that all will be perfect and that prosperity will be ours.
—People who tell us that our strength is in our might and power and not in our weakness.
—People who deny our brokenness and claim that perfection and blessing are only found in worldly success and prestige.
We are heading to Maundy Thursday, commemorating a meal when Jesus will serve dinner to people he loves, even as Jesus knows a few of them will betray him.
We are heading to Good Friday, commemorating a day when the day turned to night and love showed it’s power by dying on a cross.
We are heading to a weekend of the silence of death in a tomb, and the confused silence of people wondering if they’d had it all wrong about who Jesus was.
And we are heading to Easter, when we learn that love and life are strongest when they are broken and weak. What defeats death is not might and power. It is love.
As the joy of the multitude finds harmony with the cries of Jesus’ tears, may we seek the beauty in complex melodies and be open to the contradictions of life, where God meets us.
May it be so.