Jesus Rides

“If they were silent, the stones would shout out.” With these words, our lesson from Luke ends today. The Pharisees call on Jesus to quiet the Palm Sunday crowds, and he gives them the kind of non-answer answer for which he has become well-known: “It wouldn’t do any good to tell them to be quiet. The rocks would keep up the noise. So why bother? Let them shout!” At the very least, this left the Pharisees scratching their heads; at worst, it gave them another excuse to ramp up their campaign against this Jesus. In any case, it was not the answer they were looking for, and was simply defiant in the face of their demand.

But what if the stones would shout? What would they say?

Those stones had borne witness to a great deal. There on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem, they had seen so much: the rise and fall of kingdoms, the celebration and promises of God, the people’s desecration of the holy covenant, the construction and destruction of temples…life, death, and everything in between. What would they say, indeed, if they were given the chance to speak?

It’s a fanciful question. Jesus rides on, the parade continues, the Pharisees plot, and the rest of the story carries on toward its dramatic finale of betrayal, murder, and miracle. All the while, the stones continue their silent vigil.

In a way, I’m reminded of the saying, “If these walls could talk…” And I’m struck by that thought today, here in this place. If these walls, if the building of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church could talk, what would it say? This church facility, which has stood here on the corner of Lanier and Woodrow for more than six decades, what has it seen? The deep divides of segregation and racism, the changing role of women in society and in the church, the cultural battles over war and peace, current questions about faith and politics, about gender and sexuality…and through it all, the changing and diminishing role of church in the broader community. If we were commanded to silence, would these stones shout out?

It’s always a curious thing to look back on history. We have the benefit of hindsight, of course, and are tempted to judge those who came before based on what we know today. I’m reminded of the story of my grandfather, Marthame, Sr., born in 1900, who was a Presbyterian elder back in the days when being an elder was like being appointed to the Supreme Court: it was a lifetime appointment. In 1957, a delegation from the NAACP wanted to visit his church, and the session had a long, difficult discussion on the matter. I’m told that my grandfather turned the tide of the conversation by saying, “Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek…I wonder if the same can be said of black and white?” The session voted that all would be welcome to worship, regardless of skin color.

On the one hand, I’m very proud of that story: here was a man, and a stubborn man at that, in his late 50s, who was able to admit that what he had been taught his whole life might just be wrong. I struggle to do that as someone in my 40s. At the same time, if I’m honest, part of me is stunned. It had been three years since the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954; the Army had officially integrated in 1948, and had unofficially done so in 1944, when my grandfather, in his 40s, was serving in both the European and Pacific Theaters. With all that in mind, I’ve gotta admit, it doesn’t seem like that bold of a move.

If the stones could have shouted that day, what would they have said? Would they have screamed at the top of their lungs, “It’s about time!”?

That’s all well and good…but what about us? What is it that the stones, with the benefit of their eternal witness, would cry out to us today? Would they point out that we, enlightened though we might like to think of ourselves, are no different? Would they caution us that we risk the same disappointment from our own descendants for the way we have excluded or passed judgment on the GLBT community? And am I, in my 40s, forced to confront much of what I have been told my whole life, willing to do more than just raise the question?

This Palm Sunday is a curious day. March 24, 2013, marks the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero. He was killed for speaking out against the horrific treatment of the poor at the hands of the El Salvadoran government. He was slaughtered in the middle of worship, and the government took full responsibility, even bragging about it. Thirty-three years later, the Roman Catholic Church is led by a man that seems to bear Romero’s influence. He has stunned the world by making his priority for the poor a priority for the whole church. And there are quite a few who are saying, “It’s about time!”

What would the stones shout out today? Can we be silent long enough to listen? Can we give our own internal voices a break in order to hear their wisdom? Or do we really want to hear what they have to say, anyway?

I’m not sure, but on that ancient Palm Sunday, I think the stones, given their chance, would have let the Pharisees know in no uncertain terms that the very Son of God rode before them. The heavenly Messiah sat on a donkey, riding his way into Jerusalem, proclaiming the new reign of God. But instead, they missed it as holiness passed right before their eyes.

Where is that moment in our lives? What is it that we do or believe, more out of habit than anything else, that causes us to miss the shouting stones beneath our feet and the presence of holiness right under our noses? Where is it that we are in need of conversion: as individuals, as a church, as a community, as a nation, as humanity? And are we willing to risk what it means to be still enough to hear what God is saying to us today?