On Palm Sunday we both cheer and we weep. What a mysterious Sunday to celebrate. We cheer like the followers laying down their garments and singing praise. We weep like Christ before Jerusalem. We cheer at knowing what follows death but we weep at the pain and suffering that must be traveled through to get there.
In Luke’s account of the triumphal entry, instead of palm branches, the followers lay down their meager outer garments- “not expensive garments but tattered shawls and dusty, sweat-stained rags. Jesus was the king of the oppressed and suffering.”*
Most of the followers present were misinformed of the type of king Jesus was going to be. Regardless, everyone present was excited… everyone except the pharisees. In their final appearance with Jesus they, instead, foresee something foreboding and exclaim, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
But Jesus always seems to have a clever response, especially to the pharisees. He says “if [the people] keep quiet, the stones will cry out” -that, if the people don’t participate in the exaltation, then nature will. In essence, Jesus’ is saying that it is simply impossible for Him not to be praised and exulted. Even if a hush falls to the people, the stones will lift up and praise his name. If the people won’t do it, the inanimate objects will. The garments, swept up in the wind of the spirit, will take to dancing on the road before the lowly donkey and king. The trees of the field will clap their hands. Mustard seeds of faith and giant mountains will, out of sheer joy and celebration, hurl themselves into the sea, yelling out “cannonball” as a way of participating in Jesus’ arrival.
Or perhaps Jesus might have said “the stones will cry out” as a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. In the following verse Jesus draws near to Jerusalem, sees the city and weeps over it. He is lamenting Israel’s failure to see and know what God is up to. He says, “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Jesus would have certainly been familiar with Habakkuk 2 which says,
““Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a city by injustice!’”
Habakuk is warning people who build their wealth by unjust gain, who build their houses in high places in order to secure and make private their lives- warning them that the very stones and beams of their houses will speak out against them, against their injustice, corruption and evil. But not only their houses, their cities too.
In reference to Matthew 25:40 (“’Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do unto me.’”) Ronald Rolheiser points out that “this is not just true for how our private lives, our personal sin or virtue, touch the poor, but also for how the systems (all the social, economic, ecclesial things we take part in) touch the orphan, the widow [homeless, prisoners, those who are sick, hungry, thirsty, cold] and the alien as well. What we, or our systems, do to them, we do to Christ.”**
Too often the systems we create hide the suffering and oppression of others from our eyes which allows us to feel okay about living off unjust gain. The systems are our “nests on high.” As the systems we create together continue to get bigger and encapsulate more and more aspects of our lives we need to try harder and harder to ensure the system does not forget and leave out ‘the least of these.’ We, as Christians, need to remember them. We need to make sure the stones that compose our houses and the stones that compose our systems do not cry out of our injustices.
Throughout this Passion week the days fall deeper and deeper to darkness. The suffering gets worse. Finally, at midday Friday, the very sun turns to darkness. Nature itself is mourning the death of the true King. We weep, mourning with nature. And finally, after all hope has bled away -after all the odds have stacked against us, the very impossible shall take place —the one in a million. The one stone –the stone- rolls away.
And so, we are possessed by a faith that anything is yet possible; that God can redeem anything. This is why we cheer. We are possessed by that hope, a hope stacked against the odds. That hope inspires us to move and, in moving, we do uncomfortable things in service of justice and peace and love. We stand when everyone else is sitting. We speak when everyone else is silent. We proclaim hope and help others to hold onto that hope. We work towards redemption while standing on and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why we cheer. He died for us all, including those we, and our society of systems tramples.
As true daughters and sons of the creator God, emulating him, we use stones to create houses, churches, schools, businesses, public buildings, and entire social, economic and ecclesial structures. May we create our structures justly and may we work to create just systems. If we don’t the stones will cry out against us.
As we approach Easter this week, I wonder if Jesus was strong enough to move the stone that held him in his grave. Perhaps. Or perhaps the stone that contained the one true King in death cried out. Perhaps the stone that held back the resurrection could stand it no longer; the stone cried out at the injustice of the death of the world’s savior. And the stone, obedient to God, rolled away.
And so, this week and into the future, let us roll away the stones that cry of injustices in our lives and proclaim resurrection to those suffering, to those dead in sin, and to our sometimes misinformed selves.
(Cover photo by Armando Castillejos)
*R. Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke
** Ronald Rolheiser, Social Justice Essential to the Gospel