If you have been involved with the church for any length of time, you know the story. The last time Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem before his death, he does so with great fanfare. There is a multitude thronging the way, crying out words from the prophet Zechariah, declaring Jesus to be the King who comes in the name of the Lord. We know it so well that many of you may not have noticed that certain things about Luke's account of this story are different.
For one, there are no palm branches, like we find in the other Gospels. People threw down their coats on the road, but there is nary a palm branch to be seen. It is also unique to Luke's telling of the story that no one shouts "Hosanna!" Matthew and Mark say there was a crowd thronging the way. John says it was a crowd of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Luke alone identifies the crowd as a multitude of Jesus' disciples. Remember, Jesus had more than 12 Disciples. There were 12 that he was closest to...his inner circle if you will. But this is one of several other passages that indicate that those who counted themselves among Jesus' disciples were many, many more than just those 12.
Luke also adds one other thing to his story that the other Gospel writers do not. Luke tells us that the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders, were upset at what these disciples were doing and they asked Jesus to tell his people to quit all the fuss. There are a lot of reasons they might have said this. They might have thought what the disciples were saying was wrong. That Jesus was not the king talked about by the prophet. They might have thought that it should have been the religious leaders, those who knew the Scriptures through and through, who decided if Jesus met the criteria for that title or not. They might have had political worries, afraid that the Romans who occupied their country might think that the population was out of control or might see a political threat in someone the people called King. The last time there was talk of a new King, Herod had ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. Nobody wanted a repeat of that.
But for whatever reason, the Pharisees would have much preferred that Jesus' disciples keep their adoration to themselves, and they asked Jesus to shut them up. His response, to me, is fascinating. He doesn't tell them to take a hike. He doesn't tell them they are wrong. He certainly doesn't do what they say. He simply tells them that it is pointless. What the disciples are crying out is the truth, and the truth cannot be silenced. Even if every one of the disciples did as they wished and ceased their praise, the rocks on the ground would pick up the cry.
On the one hand, it is a figure of speech. The proclamation of the disciples that Jesus is the king who comes in God's name is so fundamentally true that even a rock would know it and say so. But on the other hand, we don't want to sell short the place of Creation in God's Kingdom. The Psalms are full of imagery of trees and fields praising God. The Bible tells us that in God's new earth, the lion and the lamb will lie down together...the animals knowing and living the Spirit of God so closely that even the natural bloodshed of the food chain disappears.
Even if the rocks don't get a chance to speak in this passage, there is already a non-human miracle. You just try pulling what Jesus does here on a colt that has never been ridden! People shouting, coats on the road, a person on its back for the very first time. Anybody but Jesus would probably have been bumped off before the first step. But the donkey colt also knew who was on its back, just as the rocks beneath its feet knew.
When Jesus is born, the heavens get involved and a bright star shines in just the right place to alert astrologers to something special. At Jesus' death these same rocks split open in an earthquake and the sun goes into an eclipse. Scorn the nature religions if you want, but I believe they are proclaiming at least one truth that Christians often forget. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that not just people, but all of Creation groans for its redemption. And right at the outset of Romans, in the passage I read earlier, Paul says that the natural world displays the truth about God. "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."
The existence of God and the nature of God are truths written in your backyard. If the church completely failed and all of the people of God everywhere were silent, Paul thinks people would still have no excuse for not knowing God, because God is obvious just from walking outside. In the Church, we have largely fallen silent about the role of Creation, and the nature religions, I believe, are the rocks that cry out in our silence about the Earth.
In fact, I think there are a lot of rocks out there, picking up the messages of God's truth when the Church has fallen silent. When we stopped proclaiming that all of us were sinners in need of God's grace and started pointing fingers and passing judgment, 12-step groups began to cry out the message we had forgotten. Many had to go there to experience God's healing and forgiveness in the company of those who were struggling just as they were.
When the Church abandoned reaching out into the community with acts of justice and mercy, the Government and private agencies began to preach the message. When the Church stopped proclaiming that every human being is God's child and is created "good," the truth could not be silenced and the self-help gurus picked it up. When the Church forgot that God calls us to leave behind concerns for material gain in order to perfect out souls, Buddhism surged forward; and when we stopped insisting that our spiritual growth is based in disciplined spiritual practice, Islam came in and showed the way. When the church in America got so focused on its own comfort and its own survival, the churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America sent missionaries here to stand in our wilderness and cry out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The disciples of Jesus in America have mostly forgotten who we serve and why we are here, and as a result the truth has been picked up by others. It is a veritable rock concert out there! A number of years ago I remember reading an article in one of the news magazines that talked about the new surge of spiritual interest in the United States. I can't tell you exactly where I read it or who wrote it, but I do remember one point that stuck with me. "This is the first time in American History," the author said, "that a spiritual revival has begun outside of organized religion." It is a rock concert.
In the next verse after Jesus talks about the rocks, he finds himself at a spot where he can look out over the city of Jerusalem. He looks at the city and weeps, because the city is clueless about who it is that is coming to them...even though the disciples are calling it out at the top of their voices. As he weeps he talks again about rocks, this time predicting the destruction of the Temple, when "not one stone will be left upon another."
It is a sad state of affairs. The religious leadership is trying to silence the disciples of Jesus, and the physical structure of organized religion is going to be knocked to the ground just a few years down the road. It pretty much describes where we are today. Surveys have shown that those who say they have faith don't much see what the Church could possible have to do with it. Someone this week told me they prefer to serve their neighbor through community organizations because the church, in their experience, is too full of fighting and judgment. The message is once again left to the rocks and the sun and the stars.
The Pharisees wanted to contain the message. They tried to silence the disciples. They crucified the one the disciples called King, and then they sealed his tomb with a rock. They didn't hear what Jesus said to them that week before, apparently. They missed the point that the truth cannot be silenced or sealed up. If organized religion will have none of it, the truth will still be heard. Even if the rocks have to shout the truth about their Creator, the message will be heard.
The Pharisees missed the point and buried Jesus in a tomb hewn from a rock with a large stone to block the entrance. The disciples ran and fell silent. On Easter morning, the rocks cried out... "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" The disciples heard the witness of the rocks and picked up the refrain once again.
It is my prayer that the rocks on the grounds of St. John's will have easy duty. I pray that the disciples in this place will join with the disciples of old in telling the world that God is love. I pray that as a church we can reclaim the message and the calling given to us to make disciples...not through violence or coercion or the threat of hell, but simply by proclaiming the winsome truth of a God who would go so far as a Cross to win our love. God has come to the world in Jesus...Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Will you join in the shouts of the disciples? Or will you leave it up to the rocks.
© 2003, Anne Robertson
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