March 24, 2-13/Palm Sunday
One of the things I strove to do this past week in Nashville was take Phoebe around to as many of my old haunts as I could. First on that list was a trip to the neighborhood I grew up in: Green Hills. When I was a kid Green Hills was just fine. It was a modest but nice neighborhood with big lawns and lots of trees. The hills around it were definitely green. It was bordered by some wealthier neighborhoods, such as Belle Meade, which was originally the Belle Meade horse plantation, but Green Hills was just nice.
Mighty changes have been taking place in Green Hills over the last several years. The family friends we stayed with described Green Hills as “trendy.” Other friends said they tend to avoid the area because the traffic has gotten outrageous. But I charged over there, determined to show Phoebe as many places from my childhood as possible.
Well trendy is a bit of an understatement. My high school, which is in the middle of Green Hills now has a refurbished gym and looked a little fancier than the last time I was there. The stores around the school have changed, becoming more upscale and gentrified with each transformation. I was happy to see that the Donut Den, which sits right next to my high school and was the site of an infamous “bust” by the school administration of students who weren’t supposed to be off-campus during school hours is still there. But even that once non-descript little store has taken on a fancier sheen and polish.
But the trendiest of all the places in my old stomping ground is the Green Hills Mall. Or, if I refer to it by its proper name, The Mall at Green Hills. The mall at Green Hills was not much more than a strip mall when I was a kid. The one store of note in my eyes was the Game Store and that’s because they sold doll houses and doll house furniture. There were two department stores which were Nashville institutions, Cain Sloane and Castner Knott’s, a shoe store that sold Buster Browns and the site of my first penny loafers purchase, and not much more than that.
But as Phoebe and I walked around the Mall at Green Hills I realized we were not in the mall I once knew. There is a Louis Vuitton, which I associate with Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Fifth Avenue in New York. Tiffany’s has a store there! Tiffany’s! I say again that trendy is probably an understatement.
But here’s the thing about trendy. What’s trendy today may not be trendy tomorrow. I doubt that the mall or Green Hills for that matter will go from upscale to slum overnight. I don’t know that Green Hills will ever be anything but upscale from now on. Yet I do know that trends are fickle because people are fickle. What’s hot and hip and cool now may not always be so. People are fickle.
The word fickle has been on my mind this past week. It’s a word that is often used to describe the crowds that greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. The fickle crowds laid their cloaks on the ground before him. It was a fickle crowd that welcomed Jesus, hailed him as King and Savior one minute, then angrily shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the next. The crowds that met Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem were fickle indeed.
If you’ve been paying attention to the specifics of Luke’s version of this story, you’ve probably realized that there are some differences from the other gospel accounts. Luke makes no mention of palms or leafy branches, just cloaks. Matthew and Mark both recount that the people laid down their cloaks and leafy branches they’d cut in the fields. Matthew has Jesus commanding the disciples to bring a colt and a donkey. John just has palm branches and it’s a donkey’s colt that is brought for Jesus to ride on. I mention this because I think we sometimes fall into the habit of assuming we know the story when actually each gospel tells its own unique version of the events surrounding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Yet whether its cloaks or palms, a donkey, a colt or some combination thereof, all the gospels tell how Jesus made his way into Jerusalem surrounded by great crowds of cheering, confident people. They are confident in his kingship and their greeting expresses all of their faith, their hope and their expectations.
However these aren’t just general groups of people gathered to see what all the fuss is about and getting caught up in the moment. These are described as the “multitude of disciples.” Luke doesn’t give us any clear understanding as to whether this multitude was also part of that fickle crowd who called for Jesus’ death later in the week. Perhaps these are disciples who stayed loyal to Jesus until the end. Perhaps not.
One significant difference from the other gospels in Luke’s telling comes at the end of the story. As Jesus is processing, and as the people are shouting and cheering, some dismayed Pharisees along the route try to pressure Jesus into making his disciples stop the yelling, the cheering, the acts of adoration. I don’t think it’s fair to just assume that the Pharisees were being the spoil sports of the day, trying to rain on the parade. Perhaps the Pharisees were concerned that all of this commotion and hubbub would draw the attention of the wrong people. Maybe they were worried that the Roman government wouldn’t see this event as something to be pleased about, and their wrath would rain down on every Jew. These were not impractical or ludicrous concerns on the part of the Pharisees. Yet Jesus’ response does nothing to reassure them.
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Even if Jesus were to enter Jerusalem in absolute silence, the multitude of disciples hailing his approach with only mute stares and glassy eyes, the noise from the stones would still be deafening. If the human creation would not proclaim the coming of the Lord, the rest of creation would.
The stones would shout.
Although Luke does not give us palms in his version, it is still Palm Sunday; the day when we commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Whether it was with palms or cloaks or something else, the practice of people laying down something before a coming hero or king was not uncommon in that culture. It was a customary Roman tradition to hail the coming of a royal or a great conquering warrior with branches or cloaks. A procession through the streets signified that the coming one was great, a hero or king who was conquering and powerful and mighty.
And the crowds who hailed Jesus that day believed that he was their king, their long-awaited Messiah, the victorious champion who would change everything for them from that point on. They were expectant and eager and hopeful for all that Jesus was about to do. But we who know the rest of the story know that Jesus did not meet their expectations. We know that the kind of conquering Jesus did was not military or political or a form of violent overthrow. I guess the claim could be made that Jesus did come to conquer, but it was accomplished through sacrificial love, not military might or worldly power.
But if you were a part of the crowd that day and you expected military might or hoped for worldly power, then the kind of conquering Jesus brought was a disappointment. So these fickle crowds turn their backs on Jesus when they realized he was not the warrior they wanted.
We know differently. We know who Jesus was and is and what he really accomplished in Jerusalem. We know the truth that was found on that cross and when the stone was rolled away from an empty tomb.
But even if we didn’t, the stones would shout. Maybe what Luke is trying to get across to his readers and us is that even if we don’t always get it, even if we’re sometimes as fickle as those crowds or as prone to misunderstanding as the early disciples, it doesn’t matter. The stones would shout. Even if no one turned around to hail Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the city where God’s greatest triumph would take place, it doesn’t matter. The stones would shout. Even if we miss the opportunity to proclaim Jesus; if we just push our way through this Sunday and this week as quickly as possible, trying to get to the joy of Easter without the pain of Good Friday, it doesn’t matter. The stones will shout.
Nothing can stop the glory of God. Nothing can hinder that glory from permeating the world and transforming it. The glory of God, the triumph of Jesus has set all of creation free. Even if we remain silent, never raising our voice or even clearing our throat, the stones will shout.
The stones are shouting that God has come, God is coming, the Lord is at hand, our Savior soon dwells among us. Let us join with all creation on this day of days and shout our joy that the Lord is coming. Let us make the foundation of this church ring with our cries and our hosannas. Jesus is coming! Let the stones shout! Amen!