April 14, 2019 (Palm Sunday)
“The Singing Stones!”
(Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Luke 19:28-40)
What images come to mind as we celebrate Palm Sunday?
*Palm Branches: This is the obvious one, right? But why palm branches? Why not a fig tree branch? In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and on important buildings. King Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 King 6:29.) We also find palm branches referred to in Revelation, as people stood before the throne of the Lamb, praising Jesus as they waved palm branches. Waving palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday indicated the people were welcoming victory and royalty.
*Red Carpet: Rolling-out a red carpet is usually reserved for Hollywood celebrities and foreign dignitaries when they arrive in the U.S. When we examine our psalm this morning, we find the psalmist celebrating deliverance from a great trial. As he rejoices, he goes to the temple (which represented the presence of God) to offer thanks and praise. In verse 20 he, in a sense, rolls-out a red carpet as he invites others to join him in praise of God-“This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter!” On that first Palm Sunday, people laid their cloaks and palm branches in the road; we may think of this as the people rolling-out the red carpet as they welcomed Jesus into their midst.
*Inauguration: When we think of an inauguration, we likely think of U.S. presidents being inaugurated into office amidst fanfare, parades, speeches and the witness of millions of people. Our reading from Luke reminds us of the inauguration day set-up for Jesus, as he instructed disciples to fetch a donkey before they arrived in Jerusalem. This is connected to Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9) which proclaims “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you….lowly and riding on a donkey!” And as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people quoted from our Psalm reading today: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It seems they were inaugurating their king, although they didn’t understand what sort of King Jesus would be.
*Singing stones: Not an image we would typically think of, yet these are Jesus’ words at the end of the passage when the Pharisees tell Jesus to keep his followers quiet: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” Jesus was likely quoting from the book of Habakkuk, when the prophet implored God to bring righteousness to the land. In God’s reply to Habakkuk, we find the words “Woe to him who builds he house by unjust gain-you have plotted the ruin of many peoples-the stones of the wall will cry-out!” In other words, even the stones will declare God’s righteousness-God’s righteousness will prevail. And as Jesus journeys through Holy Week, we find God’s righteousness will prevail in the end. As Jesus proclaimed, even the stones will sing of God’s righteousness!
As we enter Holy Week together, let us embrace these images as we recognize Jesus’ ultimate victory with our palm branches. Let us roll-out the red carpet as we welcome Jesus, but also realize God is rolling-out a red carpet to us, inviting us into relationship. As we inaugurate Jesus as our king, let us speak words of praises, following the psalmist’s example. And let us be “singing stones” as we declare the righteousness of God, played-out in the coming days during the events of Holy Week.