“If These Were Silent”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

March 20, 2016 — Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

 

Jesus was getting near to Jerusalem. He had been on his way for quite some time—ten chapters, in Luke’s gospel—and now he was almost there. Then as now, Jerusalem was a holy city for Jews (this was before there were Christians or Muslims, though now, of course, it is a holy city for people of all three faiths). Jerusalem was a place where God’s presence dwelled, a place where pilgrims came to pray and sacrifice, a place where the veil between heaven and earth was thin. Jesus had been on his way there for a quite a while, and now he was very near—within a day’s travel, almost within eyeshot.

He stopped in a village on the eastern outskirts of the city and sent two of his disciples on ahead. He said, “You will find in this town a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” And they did. They took off their cloaks and put them on its back, and they set Jesus on it, and he rode on toward Jerusalem. The people kept spreading their cloaks on the road ahead. Songs and cheers filled the air; little children danced alongside; the people praised God and gave thanks, saying,

 

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

 

And then one of those dancing children turned to his mother and said, “Mom, why are you calling him a king? He doesn’t look like one…” And she said, “Sweetie, what do you think a king looks like?” “Well, he rides a big horse, not a little colt. And he has armor, and a shiny helmet with a feather on top, and a sharp sword. And he has lots of soldiers all around him… But that man only has ragged clothes and an ugly little pony. Why are you calling him the king?”

Just then, some of the Pharisees in the crowd hurried up to Jesus and said, “Teacher, you’re making a big spectacle here, and you know what’s going to happen. Don’t you hear what the people are saying? Don’t you know that king is not a title you just bandy about? Don’t you know that Pontius Pilate and his army are in Jerusalem right now? Don’t you know they’re on the lookout for precisely this kind of rabble-rousing? Don’t you know how powerful they are? Don’t you know what they’ll do to you? Jesus, you’ve got to stop all this ruckus, or you’re going to get yourself killed. Teacher, order your disciples to stop. Make them be quiet!” And they started shushing the crowds, trying to silence their chanting and shouting and songs.

Jesus could have joined those Pharisees. He probably knew that they were probably right. He must have been aware of the danger he was in. The Roman Empire feared this kind of gathering, just as tyrants everywhere fear the simple, inherent, human power of their subjects. For quite a while now, Jesus had known that Pilate was after his blood, that the authorities were just looking for an excuse to put an end to his peace-preaching, wound-healing, hope-inspiring, hunger-feeding, love-spreading ways. He could have given in to that fearful threat and asked his followers to tone it down at least a little bit.

And I suspect that they would have gone along with him. Could you blame them? There were plenty of reasons to be silent, plenty of reasons not to cause trouble, plenty of reasons to stand by and say nothing.

Maybe they, too, were afraid. Maybe they worried that if they spoke out, they would be judged by their family and friends. Maybe they worried that they would be condemned by their neighbors. Maybe they worried that their kids would be bullied in school. Maybe they worried that if they ran afoul of the powers that be, there could be serious consequences to their reputations, their jobs, their very lives.

Maybe they were dealing with struggles of their own, hardships and difficulties that made songs of joy hard to stomach. Maybe they were grieving losses that were still very fresh. Maybe they were suffering from illness or physical pain that robbed them of their energy and made it hard to get too excited about anything. Maybe they would have been just as glad to be let off the hook for public displays of enthusiasm that day.

Maybe they felt like the whole thing was pretty futile anyway. Maybe that little child was right, and Jesus was nothing like the powerful king who could save them from imperial oppression. Maybe they figured their one little voice would barely be heard by the people around them, let alone by anyone who could make any difference. Maybe they had swallowed the lie that the Romans had told them, that they were nothing but a subject people ruled by a rightful leader, and there wasn’t a darn thing they could do about it.

Maybe the people wouldn’t have minded if Jesus had joined with the Pharisees to silence their voices, to dismantle the power of that gathered crowd, to downplay any threat to Pilate and his soldiers. But you know Jesus. That’s not what he did.

When the Pharisees said, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop,” here’s what Jesus said in reply: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” He said, “If my disciples were silenced, dispersed, driven away, it would not stop the power of my message. The buildings, the temple, the city walls, the very earth itself would cry aloud, for the power of God’s love cannot be silenced by anything or anyone in this world.”

 

As we have journeyed through this season of Lent, as we have delved deeper and deeper into that unsilenceable love of God, we have been practicing letting go of the things that separate us, that close us off, that keep us from true relationship with God, with one another, and with ourselves. Today, as we stand on the outskirts of Holy Week, within eyeshot of the cross, as we prepare the way for Jesus to enter Jerusalem again, as we open ourselves to the beauty and ugliness and tragedy and triumph that are to come this week, I invite you to come forward and lay your palms in the chancel. As you do so, I invite you to lay down also whatever forces or fears cause you to remain silent rather than tell what you know about the height and the length and the depth and the breadth of God’s love.

And then, as you return to your seats, I invite you to pick up a stone from these baskets and take it with you as a sign that even when you cannot speak, the gospel will be proclaimed. Even when you fall silent, a sister or a brother may yet have a voice. Even when words fail altogether, Love will sing in the earth and the sky, in the intricacies of your body and the rhythms of life itself. Even later this week, when betrayal and desertion and death itself seem to hold the whole world in their grasp, that stone will be there, reminding you that the gospel story is not over, that the love of God is sturdy and reliable, unsilenceable and indestructible, always and forever, no matter what.

 


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