If Stones Could Speak
Luke 23:1-25 and 23:32-48
Palm Sunday--April 14, 2019
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
It was a wonderful celebration! Just like we expected. After all it was my daughter Rebecca’s 7th birthday party. A Princess Pool Pizza Party. I remember it like it was yesterday, eight little girls wearing princess tiaras expressing excitement with shouts of joy--loud shouts of joy. It was a celebration indeed!
Then unexpectedly, everything changed. As we made our way from the pool to the game room to open presents and eat cake, a big kid ran into my 2-year old son Christian and knocked him to the ground. There was an instant goose-egg on his head, and then through big tears he said, “my arm hurts.” A trip to the ER confirmed our fears: a broken bone and cast for 5 weeks. Not exactly how we expected the celebration to end.
One minute celebration--the next minute crisis. The longer I live, the more I experience, the more people I meet, the more stories I hear, this seems to be the way of it. We live somewhere between celebration and crisis. Between joy and sorrow. Between faith and doubt. Between hope and despair. Between celebration and crisis. That’s life. That’s where we live.
It was a wonderful celebration! Just like the disciples expected. After all, it was Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. People waved palms and put them down on the ground to make a carpet fit for a king. The crowds of people lined the streets for the parade. The crowds cheered with shouts of joy--loud shouts of joy: “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!”
Then unexpectedly, everything changed. The disciples who promised to be faithful now denied him. The people putting down palms for Jesus now took up arms against him. The parade to celebrate the arrival of their king now became a mob to arrest him. The crowd’s shouts of joy--”Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes” now became “Crucify! Away with him! Crucify him!” At the beginning of the week--celebration. But by the end of the week--crucifixion. Not exactly how a celebration is expected to end.
Between celebration and crisis. That’s Holy Week. Today is the first day of Holy Week--Palm Sunday.
But it is also called Passion Sunday.
As children, we want a parade, with a donkey, no less, and the more palms and Hosannas the better. As adults, having worshiped through many Lenten seasons, we know where this parade ends. And so we wonder, why celebrate, when we know the week ends in sorrow and death? Why even tell the story?
The answer is found in the Gospel reading today, hidden in a little verse between the celebration and the crisis parts of the story. Did you hear it? After the Hosannas, the pharisees tell Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” Jesus answered: “I tell you, even if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
What a curious thing to say...the stones would shout out...what did Jesus mean? I think what Jesus was saying is this: the story of God’s redemptive love is so powerful, so amazing, so compelling, so true, that God would find a way for it to be told, somehow, someway--even if through the stones.
If stones could speak, they would have a story to tell. After all, stones were witness to much of Jesus’ life.
In the wilderness, the devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus resisted the temptation and said, “One does not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:1-4)
In the town square, stood a woman caught in adultery. The crowd said, “The law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.” Jesus answered, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, they all went away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus, who said, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:1-11)
In the village of Bethany, a man named Lazarus had died. He was put in a tomb that was sealed with a stone. Jesus came to the tomb and said, “Take away the stone.” People said, “What are you saying, he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said, “Come out Lazarus.” And Lazarus came out of the tomb. (Jn 11:38-44)
On a cross Jesus was crucified and died. His body was taken down and buried in a tomb. A stone was rolled against the door of the tomb to seal it. (Mark 15:46)
A week that began with a celebration ends in crisis. That’s Holy Week. But, that’s not the end of the story….
On the first day of the week, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and the body of Jesus was not there. “He is not here. He is risen.” (Luke 24:2-5)
If stones could speak, they would tell the story...and so they do:
The story that Jesus has the power to forgive our sin and to help us resist the devil’s temptations.
The story that stones cannot contain the love and power of God.
The story that doesn’t end where we expect it. It doesn’t end with death, but new life.
It doesn’t end in crucifixion, but resurrection. It doesn’t end in crisis, but in celebration.
That’s the good news of the gospel.
But, we live somewhere between celebration and crisis. Between joy and sorrow. Between faith and doubt. Between hope and despair. That’s life. That’s where we live.
And that’s where our church has lived. Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon has been through crises and celebrations. If these stones upon which this church was built could speak, I wonder, what they would say:
They might speak of the joy shared at celebrations of baptisms, confirmations and weddings,
They might speak of the tears shed over crisis of conflicts, deaths, and funerals,
They might speak of the times in between: Sunday School classes, youth groups, pot-luck suppers, mission projects, Jazz fest, fellowship times
They might speak of weekly worship--special hymns and anthems sung, prayers whispered, pledges offered, and who knows, some might even speak of a sermon or two
They would surely speak of the story of God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ--so powerful, so amazing, so compelling, so true, that it has to be told, and even if we were silent, the stones themselves would shout out.
In our final small group discussion this past week on the topic of giving to the church, one man shared the reason he gives to the church is not just because he and his family find joy and inspiration here, but because he wants the church to be here on this corner, in this stone building, as a witness of our faith to the world.
And so, week after week, year after year, Holy Week after Holy Week, we gather together in the church, to tell the story. To hear the story. To re-live the story. To participate in the story. To believe the story. So we might share the story with others. Because this story of God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ is so powerful, so amazing, so compelling, so true. And it is our story.
For what the story means to us is this: God is with us, in all times--in times of celebration and crisis, joy and sorrow, faith and doubt, hope and despair, and all times in between. For that’s where we live. And that’s where God is with us.
So whether we find ourselves today in celebration or crisis, or somewhere in between, we can hold fast knowing that the story of God’s redemptive love in Jesus does not end in crisis, but in victory and celebration.
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.