Today is Palm Sunday, a day for marches, rallies and statements on peace, refugees, poverty – almost anything really. It is not Good Friday despite the tradition in our church to read the passion gospel today. No wonder people don’t come on Good Friday, they’ve heard it all before.
Yet they haven’t heard it at all. They haven’t been allowed to because we, the church, have decided what they should hear. We have circumvented the process that is the Gospel story, a plot line from birth to resurrection with each way station on the journey as important as the beginning and the end.
Why do we avoid Palm Sunday? Why do we not see its importance as both a text and an integral part of Jesus’ life?
We know that Jesus returns to Jerusalem, setting up the final confrontation that brings about his death. We know he is joined in this journey by a rag tag bunch of people. We do not know how many of the disciples were there or whether this was just a rent a crowd mob. We do know that Jesus carefully choreographed the event like all good street performers do.
He set up a humble rag tag procession through a back gate to counter the pomp and ceremony of the military parade coming in the main entrance to the city. He had a message and he was out, loud and proud about this message to those who supported the regime or simply wanted the status quo to continue. They told him to behave appropriately and to tell his noisy companions to be quiet.
Jesus response, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Why? Because this man was grounded and so was his mission. It had risen out of the dirt between his feet. It had come into being, not as a pre-set algorithm implanted in heaven, but a response to the divine within creation. It was a response he grew into over his brief lifetime walking the dusty roads of his homeland and hearing their cry, a cry not muted by the cobble stones paved over it. In fact, those very stones amplified the cry.
What was it the stones would shout out? Perhaps it is the words the crowd was shouting: “Blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
While the first is a text from Psalm 118, in the context of the times, it was inflammatory and contrary to the Roman/Jewish Kingdom. They were words that placed Jesus and his mission at direct odds with the powers to be. We need to also understand Jesus was seen as a small time rabble-rouser by those in power. Not a real threat or a high profile opposition; just some one who, if he weren’t dealt with, would add to the continuing unrest.
Jesus suggests with this statement something more significant was happening, something that had the imprimatur of creation itself. And as creation was God’s doing, God was in creation; it also spoke clearly of the sovereignty of God and the inherent nobility of all things.
What would the stones, the earth, the very building blocks of life, cry out about? They would point to:
The Sovereignty of God
No matter the hubris of human ego, the Divine Essence remains just that, the empowerment at the centre of all things. Humans can copy, enforce, over power, design, implement but they can never create. They can never bring into being themselves. They are the thought or will of something more essential and intimate with all that is in existence.
Depending on our language, culture and context there are many different names and manifestations of the Creator yet that Creator Being is sovereign. There is no life without the insistence of the Other.
In our faith story that being is God. God sits at the core of all existence, below the world we see (the world we live in), below the world we feel (our emotional inner world) and below the mystical spiritual world of the mystics we seek. God is at the core of all that has been, is or will be.God is the pointe vierge -the still point shining in the void at the centre of all life.
In Jesus’ context the stones would remain long after the religious and those in power who would pale into insignificance and impermanence when compared to the everlasting essence of life – God.
The Centrality of the of Poor
The stones would shout out and remind all who were comfortable with their existence, all who were implicated in the status quo for their sense of entitlement, all who lived in fear of being fully enlivened by the creator spirit that it is the poor who understand this more than they. Not only would they remind people to look upon the poor who despite their perceived place at the bottom of the barrel were alive, vibrant, full of hope and ready to step out and proclaim a new world order.
The centrality of the poor to the wellbeing of the world cannot be denied. But it is not simply that we need to fix the systemic issues that keep them poor, it is the deeper question of just who is the poor. Is it those without possessions, positions or power or is it those with possessions, positions and power?
Joe Pinsker wrote an article in 2018 entitled, The Reason Many Ultra Rich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth. He noted that “at a certain point, another million dollars doesn’t make anything newly affordable. That’s when other motivations take over.” He reviewed the work of 3 researchers who all came to the conclusion that despite their wealth the people they studied were fearful of their status amongst their peers, unable to satisfy their sense of whether they were just lucky or deserved what they had, and convinced that their life boiled down to just one thing – the number at the end of their bank balance.
Is there not something the poor can teach us about a life without attachment to the adornments of wealth?
The Nobility of Creation
What did the people lay on the road? Palm branches. The highly visible and ubiquitous colour of nature alive – green.
What did Jesus choose to enter into the city on? A young donkey, perhaps a nod to the ordinariness of the beast but also the process of regeneration and growth. He did not choose a male or female adult donkey but a young yet to reach adulthood donkey.
He chose to walk the path with people outside the elite. He didn’t walk with Archbishops and Bishops, Premiers and Prime Ministers, corporate leaders and Governors. He chose to stand with those closest to the nobility of creation.
Creation is the noblest of acts and the noblest of actions. Despite all our efforts to improve on creation we learn, often too late, that we mess with it at our own peril. Our own experience in this country with the so called latest hi-tech scientific farming methods has resulted in destruction of the fertility of land, the increasing impact of natural disasters and the ruination of the bio-diversity of this country.
Jesus reminds us that creation is not to be taken lightly because the stones will cry out.
On this Palm Sunday let us resist the temptation to rush to Easter and ponder upon Jesus’ walk into Jerusalem, who he walks with, who he preferences and ask ourselves: are we in fact walking with Jesus? Amen
Great Creator Spirit,
On this day when we begin our journey to the resurrection walk with us in the ordinariness of our lives just as you walked with Jesus in his.
May we proclaim with him your sovereignty in all things despite our fears and the noise of those who seek to control us.
Help us to keep on walking in his way with our eyes firmly fixed on you. Amen