The Story of Creation (Stones):
40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Palm Sunday ushers in Holy Week and Jesus steady journey to the Cross. It begins ok enough. A carefully orchestrated non-violent procession on the outskirts of town mimicking the military parade of might and power just a stones throw away.
Happy followers wave their branches beside a smiling Jesus on a young donkey. Some even lay down their cloaks, probably especially brought for the purpose, on the ground in front of the donkey.
It was not a benign procession. The imagery is provocative and powerful. In Zechariah 9:9 we read the promise to the people of Jerusalem of rescue from those oppressing them:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
It is powerfully political and religious at the same time. It is aimed squarely at the Romans whose power rules, for now, and at those who appease and seek to keep the status quo. This is not new for Jesus. He has always been political and on the offensive in terms of corruption, violence and oppression. It is the program he set for himself when he announced his ministry in Luke 4 – He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The church is not a benign institution responsible for platitudes, nice music, lovely people; the church is a revolutionary body responsible for bringing in the kingdom of God. It is political for its mandate is the very same mandate Jesus took for himself. We are for the poor, the marginalised and the forgotten. This is not an option but mandatory on all of us to live like this.
When the religious leaders suggest that he and his followers tone it down, go through the right channels, work with the powers to be, he replies, ‘“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
What an extraordinary thing to say. How do you reply to such a statement? Surely Jesus mental health was questioned? The man’s nuts!
In the last week we have discovered that the 12 Apostles dotted along the coast beside the Great Ocean Road are not 8 as we thought (4 had fallen into the sea), but 13. 5 more have been found. These majestic sand stacks have risen and fallen and been discovered over centuries. What stories do they hold? What things could they tell us if only they could talk. But they do. Science will interrogate them and discover more and more about the birth of our planet and our country, the sea and those who live in it. The stones will speak.
Jesus is saying this is not about you and your rational, reasonable selves. This is about the transcendence of God, of me who is indistinguishable from God, one with the Godhead who brought all things into being. Listen to the stones, listen to the sand-stacks, listen to the trees and you will hear them calling out the words of Zechariah. They praise and celebrate God and call for release from oppression.
Jesus reminds us the Godhead is present in all created things and that to silence the voice of one will result in another speaking out, seeking freedom. That voice maybe heard in the sounds and images of climate change, habitat loss, lack of water and the damage to ecosystems so fragile they have taken years to develop.
Jesus’ incarnation is not just about human beings, questionably the most intelligent beings on earth, but for all. “For so greatly did God love the world that He gave His only Son, that every one who trusts in Him may not perish but may have the Life of Ages.” It is only human beings who have a choice. The stones will always cry out in praise and adoration seeking to return to God simply by being a stone. Humans fail to hear the sound other creatures make and fail to see the implication in Jesus statement, you are not the centre of the world. Yes, you were made for relationship with God, but it is not all about you.
Others are valued and valuable and you are to take steps to care for the least of these. You are to resist oppression of peoples and creatures, oppose the destruction of the planet for profit and greed, and to ensure all have the opportunity to celebrate the life God has given them.
Jesus reminds us of the unity of life – we all co-independent – and challenges the leaders and the rulers to cease the ‘this and that’ of duality. You are alive in this moment. The Good news is here for all, listen and hear it, even the stones on which we are walking are speaking.
Thomas Merton responded when someone asked about how he lived out his monastic life, first a little humorously:
This is not a hermitage, it is a house. (“Who was that hermitage I seen you with last night?”) What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe. Who said Zen? Wash out your mouth if you said Zen. If you see a meditation going by, shoot it. Who said “Love?” Love is in the movies.
He than sobers up: “The spiritual life is something that people worry about when they are so busy with something else they think they ought to be spiritual. Spiritual life is guilt. Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.” (Thomas Merton from his essay Day of a Stranger.)
Palm Sunday is Jesus return to Jerusalem. It is also the time when he knows his enemies will be coming after him and he only has a short while. He appeals to the ancient prophets and the natural world to give context and meaning to his actions and words. He steps neither backward nor aside from the consequences of speaking out on behalf of all beings who are oppressed by the powerful and the tyrants, secular or religious. He steps forward knowing what the consequences most likely will be.
As we stand waving our palm branches and singing our songs are we ready for the decimation of our dreams, our hopes and plans if we take Jesus seriously and follow him to the Cross? Or are we only Palm Sunday Christians? Amen