Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stony Silence--a sermon for Palm Sunday

This sermon is preceded (at 11:00, anyway) by an anthem which you can listen to here:
Ain't No Rock Gonna Shout For Me

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Stony Silence
Luke 19.28-40
Palm Sunday C—April 1 2007

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout aloud.’

Oh, if these walls could talk. In the 135 years they’ve been standing here, they have heard and seen a lot of things. Imagine the stories they could tell—stories of joy and pain, births and deaths, pastors coming and going in memorable ways. Stories of tears and laughter, games of sardines and hours of worship, music from everywhere in the world with all kinds of accompaniment. Stories of life and death, of war and peace, of love and disagreement, of family and friends. These walls have stories to tell…and I suspect the walls of every one of our homes and schools has stories as well.

But isn’t it so much more interesting to hear them from people? To hear the nuances, the emotions, the memories. People tell stories with differing perspectives, with passion, with drama and with heart. The walls could tell the facts, relate the stories, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.

I imagine it’s the same with stones. The stones on the hillsides surrounding Jerusalem, the stones used to construct the city walls, the stones of the streets and the tombs, the stones of houses and the Temple—they have seen and heard a lot of things. The stories they could tell! Stories of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac, stories of the great kings and prophets of Israel, stories of the everyday life of people for the past several thousand years—stories of life and love and pain and death and work and exile and food and family and religion. Stories of Jesus. Stories of Stephen and Paul and Peter. Maybe even stories of some of us who’ve walked those streets and hillsides. But would they be able to capture the whole story, the whole feeling, the whole experience? After all, they are just stones, or just walls. They stay put in one place—they can’t see all of my story or yours, they can only see what happens right here, where they are. The story is incomplete.

And yet, Jesus says that if people refuse to shout out, to praise, to sing of the deeds of power and the presence of God, the stones will take up the slack. If the people are silenced by the powers and principalities, the stones will be their voice. They don’t know the whole story, but they’ve been around longer than the people. They don’t have the same emotional attachment to the story, but they too were created by God for praise. They won’t be the same words of praise, but they’ll be praise nonetheless—God is able from stones to raise up witnesses and choruses to tell of the promises and mighty deeds of God.

It seems that, so far anyway, that hasn’t been necessary. On that day, so long ago, that we remember here today, this crowd of Passover Pilgrims ends up witnessing an parade, with disciples tossing coats in the mud and singing in a chant that made it sound like royal procession—raising their voices over the protests of the powers, raising their voices so the rocks could maintain their stony silence, raising their voices in praise of the One who not only came in the name of Lord, but IS the Lord.

Everyone loves a parade, of course. It’s hard not to get excited, not to get swept up in the music, the cheering, the dancing, the costumes, the floats and flowers and balloons. Standing on the sidewalk watching a parade is a time-honored way of celebrating—just think of Thanksgiving without the Macy’s parade, think of the Rose parade, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the royal processions of countries with kings and queens…even funeral processions are celebrations. In countries where parades not organized by the government are forbidden, people still create processions to mark momentous occasions. In Egypt weddings often turned into parades, full of cars decorated with flowers, horns honking, music blaring, and people cheering from the sidewalks and the apartment windows. People raise their voices and celebrate with parades around the world.

But this parade….this parade is a little different. It’s an impromptu parade, into a city swollen with Passover pilgrims. The people toss coats and tree branches in the mud to protect Jesus and his donkey from being spattered. They shout words like “Hosanna” and “king” and “highest heaven.” They turn this pilgrim’s progress into a royal procession, and there are those who disapprove. With a glare, the Pharisees break their stony silence to demand the silence of others. But Jesus, the one who gives a voice to people who need it, not the one who stifles those voices, simply says what many already know: if the people can’t or won’t speak, the stones will still shout out. They were created for praise too, they know the story too, they see what’s happening—you can’t silence this news. This good news will spread throughout the city, throughout the land, throughout the world…it’s much too late to stop it now.

Well, the Pharisees knew what they were hearing. They knew what it meant…treason. They thought they could stop the good news, but they can’t. Even now they try, but they can’t. Here we are, thousands of years later, shouting the same words, waving palms and throwing coats on the ground, and doing our best to continue proclaiming the good news. But it’s not always an easy task.

You see, the crowd dispersed, leaving Jesus alone with the Twelve. The Pharisees dispersed, too, to the halls of the Temple and the Palace. The stones were left to wonder what would happen next, waiting to hear it from their cousins on the other side of the city, on another hill. And when the time came to eat a meal together, there were only twelve to hear the story, to hear the charge, to wonder at the symbols and the strange nourishment that came from mere bread and wine. And when the time came to go on another procession, to join another parade, there were different people, fewer disciples still. But the story could not be silenced. The shouts may change, but the good news lives on. When the palm branches turn to crosses, when Hosanna turns to Crucify, the followers are the ones who are left. Not the fans , not the admirers, but the disciples. They are the ones who carry on the story so the rocks can maintain their stony silence. Jesus didn’t call groupies, he called disciples. He didn’t call for sidewalk-sitting parade watchers, he called for disciples to sing praises, to share good news. He didn’t call us into community just to wave palm branches, he called us into community to follow him to the cross, and on to the empty tomb and right into new life. He didn’t call us to this table to fill our mouths with food to keep us quiet, he called us to this table to fill our mouths with good news to be shared with the world. Coming to the table is part of enacting that good news—that there is abundant life for all, that God still heals sinners, that different people can be part of one family, that no one is an outcast.

Though the rocks can carry the tune, they can’t carry the whole story. If we are silent, the rocks will take our part—don’t let them. Come to this table to be nourished with both good food and good news, and let the songs of praise for God’s mighty deeds come from us, from our words and from our lives, not from the stones.

May it be so.


(1) adapted from from Kierkegaard’s Followers, Not Admirers, as seen here


  1. I think you have a powerful moment in the hymn, the silence, the rocks, and in this reflection. May the Spirit be in you and with you tomorrow as you live and preach this. I'll be thinking of you and hoping it is one of those "ahah" moments...