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Palm Sunday — April 10, 2022

Lent 6C
Palm Sunday
Luke 19:28-40

It may be Palm Sunday, but there’s no sign of leafy branches in Luke’s account of that day. Our worship this Sunday may resound with chorus upon chorus of “Hosanna” but in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, there is not a single “Hosanna” voiced from the crowd. We have to look in Matthew, Mark and John to find what we might regard as the traditional trappings of Palm Sunday. Luke’s account is the alternative version — and, in some ways, the most intriguing version. While offering neither palms nor “Hosanna,” Luke’s narrative uniquely provides us with stones.

Some of the Pharisees present implore Jesus to silence his disciples, whose praise of Jesus as he moves into Jerusalem invokes Psalm 118 and also recalls the song of the angels that accompanies his birth (Luke 2:14). In reply to the Pharisees’ request, Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, even the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). The power of that moment, the meaning of this week, the importance of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem cannot be denied. If his disciples don’t announce it, then the stones along the road will take up the chorus. Jesus is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. It is a bedrock truth that must be told. It cannot be ignored or silenced. If we won’t acknowledge him, praise him, acclaim him, then the stones will bear witness. The Lordship of Jesus must be proclaimed. The stones know it so.

Luke doesn’t just provide us with stones on Palm Sunday; he notes their presence all along Jesus’ journey. This season of Lent began, as it always begins, with Jesus in the wilderness, withstanding the devil’s temptations. In that forbidding and forlorn place a stone is present, a stone, the devil suggests, the famished Jesus could turn into a loaf of bread, if, of course, he was the Son of God. Jesus resists the temptation to glorify himself. The stone in the wilderness remains a stone, bearing witness to Jesus’ faithfulness to the course God has set before him.

As Holy Week unfolds, we follow Jesus to a Passover table where he speaks of a new covenant while he breaks the bread and fills a cup. He then tells his companions what is coming later than night: one of them will betray him, another will deny him. Next Jesus leads them from that meal to the Mount of Olives. “Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41). The stone is there to listen to Jesus’ anguished prayer as he seeks the strength to complete his life’s work. His deepest emotions are laid bare, and, as some versions of Luke have it, his sweat becomes like great drops of blood. Battling fear and anxiety, Jesus places himself in God’s hands, even as the crowd comes to arrest him. The stone bears witness to it all.

After his death, on the first day of the week, the women go to his tomb at dawn with spices and ointments. They find a stone, inexplicably rolled away from the tomb’s opening (Luke 24:2). His body is gone, and the women are perplexed and fearful. Two figures in dazzling clothes announce that he has risen, and they bid the women to remember what Jesus had told them, for all has happened just as he said it would. The women remember, and then they leave the tomb resolved to proclaim what has been made to known to them, that he is risen indeed. The nearby stone bears witness to it all: the confusion, the fear, the mystery, the announcement, the recollection, the affirmation, the commitment. Surely, if the women were somehow silenced on that wondrous morning, the stone would shout out.

From the wilderness to the entry into Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives to the empty tomb, Luke places stones at key points of Jesus’ journey. I wonder about the stones that line the paths we travel? There are the small stones we might carry in a pocket or place on a shelf, stones bearing witness to a moment, an experience, a promise, a prayer. There are stones on the hills and in the rivers of the sacred places we visit or the pavement stones that support us in our going out and our coming or the headstones in cemeteries marking the passing of generations. What do these stones have to say about us?

This Holy Week begins in a time when exuberance is faint, when it might be hard to utter a “Hosanna” with conviction or wave a leafy branch with much enthusiasm. May we still have the faith and attentiveness to listen to the stones lining the road Jesus travels. The stones know what Palm Sunday is all about.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How do you respond to Luke’s version of Palm Sunday when compared to the more familiar accounts in Mark 11, Matthew 21, and John 12? What is Luke seeking to emphasize in his telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem?
  2. How do you relate the events of Palm Sunday to the rest of Holy Week? What are the elements of continuity and discontinuity as the Passion of Jesus unfolds from Palm Sunday to Good Friday?
  3. What are the stones that have significance in your life? What kind of witness do they bear?

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