Jesus said, “I tell you, if these people were silent, the stones would cry out.”
I like rocks. And stones. And boulders. Especially in a garden. Back when I started gardening at our house in Minneapolis, Charlie and I would look for rocks everywhere we went, and bring them back to our yard. It was almost like a game. If we were driving along a road and passed some good-sized stones, I’d yell “rocks!” and we’d stop. Once on the way to Red Wing in southern Minnesota, we pulled over for small boulders that had fallen from the bluffs along the highway.
Another time at a resort, we fished rocks out of a lake in the dark so no one would see us. More than once, we hauled large stones from the cabin Charlie’s mom has near Grand Marais. But, eventually, I got impatient with that slow rate of stone gathering. You know, it takes a long time to get enough rocks to make a significant impact when you’re landscaping a large yard, stone by stone.
So, one spring, I called a company that sold rocks north of the Twin Cities, and ordered two tons of small boulders. Now, I’m sure most North Dakota farmers would laugh at the thought of paying for rocks, when they have an unending supply in their fields. Yep, that’s what those City folks do,” they’d say. A couple weeks later, a large truck lumbered down our alley, and dumped my order next to our driveway. It’s amazing how much noise rocks can make. I spent that summer moving those precious boulders around our yard… next to the pond I had created, along the borders of the garden, to perfectly complement the shrubs and trees and plants.
When Charlie and I moved here three years ago, of course we had to bring some of those stones with us. I think the moving company guys thought we were crazy. After all, who moves rocks? But for us, some of those stones carried memories. Of places we had visited. Of good times shared. Of our Minneapolis home. When I look at those rocks now, I see more than lumps of granite or limestone. My mind hears the stories they tell.
Jesus said, “If these people were silent, the stones would cry out.”
Today is Palm Sunday. At least that’s what we called it when I was a kid. Now it’s “Passion-slash-Palm Sunday.” Now we combine all of Holy Week into one Sunday service. That’s why we read the entire passion story in today’s Gospel readings from Luke. But did you notice anything funny about the Gospel lesson I read before the procession? I did. Something I had not seen before. What’s weird is that in Luke’s Gospel, there is no mention of palm branches. The same story is told in the other Gospels. And in all three, as Jesus processes on a donkey into Jerusalem, the crowd waving palms like pompoms.
But in Luke, there are no palms. The people only lay down their coats in the street. Which means if we only had Luke as a Gospel, there would be no Palm Sunday. There’s also one other detail that makes Luke’s story different. The talking rocks. The verse where Jesus responds to the religious leaders, who tell him to silence the crowd. Hearing them call Jesus “king,” the leaders fear that Rome will send their troops to quiet the crowd with horses and swords. But Jesus says, “If these people were silent, the stones would cry out.”
For the rocks hear what the people say. The rocks remember the blood of those murdered by cruel oppressors. The rocks witness the change of tone from this day when the people shout hosannas, to five days later, when crowd chants for Pontius Pilate to crucify him, when Jesus walks over these stones carrying his cross. The rocks speak when everyone else is silent.
Which makes me think of an old Hasidic Jewish teaching that says a time will come when the stones of the earth will testify against us human beings, remembering the days we have spent walking and driving over rocks. I don’t know about you, but I don’t pay much attention to gravel and boulders when I’m in a hurry. However, Hasidic mystics view those stones as holy witnesses. For after being silent for millennia, they believe our actions will be judged by those same rocks. They will tell God and everyone how we treated other humans and our earth.
Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he talks about the stones crying out. Shouting. Even whispering what they know. Voicing words when no one else can. Speaking truth to power. No longer keeping silent.
Years ago, people living with HIV/AIDS came up with a slogan that describes that struggle: “Silence Equals Death,” usually represented with an equal sign between the first and last word (Silence = Death). It was born out of an era when gay and bisexual men were dying because they were afraid to come out. Along with that slogan, they created a grassroots organization called “ACT UP,” which stands for AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power. Together, ACT-UP organized protests that eventually forced our government to do something. They staged die-in’s at Senators’ offices, blocked the lobbies of pharmaceutical companies, and led angry marches down city streets.
Groups like “Black Lives Matter” are doing similar work for justice today. Refusing to remain silent in the face of hatred and bigotry and discrimination.
Jesus said, “If these people were silent, the stones would cry out.”
Sadly, the voices of hatred still seek to silence people. On Friday, the Administration’s ban on transgender individuals in our military took effect, without much notice. Which means that 13,700 trans military members might be discharged and lose their jobs. Which means that any trans individual who tries to enlist will be barred from doing so. Which means that we Christians need to speak up for the voiceless and work for justice in our world.
That’s also the model for following Jesus described by St. Paul in our second lesson from Philippians—who says Jesus “did not regard equality with God as a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” For Jesus didn’t come as a king to reign on earth; he came to serve the sick and poor. For even though Jesus was recognized as a rabbi, he spent much of his time with the outcasts of his community. Despite Jesus being the Word Incarnate, he welcomed the lowest class of his society.
Theologians say that some of those early Philippian Christians were probably slaves or former slaves. So, the imagery Paul uses is not just poetic. It spoke to their social and economic reality.
I believe the same applies to us today. We need a Savior who enters our human condition. Who knows our internal doubts and fears. Who understands what it’s like to be a silent minority. Who has compassion for those who live in the closet, or struggle with depression, or feel overwhelmed by the barriers we face just living each day.
That’s where the grace of the cross comes in. For Jesus came and died for people like us. Revealing a love for each of us, even when we feel unlovely. So that we can, in turn, can live freely and love graciously. And become the living stones that speak when the world seems to have nothing to say.
As Jesus said, “For if these people were silent, the stones would cry out.” Amen.
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GOSPEL LESSON: Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, [Jesus] went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”