Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“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.” Luke 19:37-40
I spent late Saturday afternoon walking on Cahoon Hollow beach in what has recently become my home town of Wellfeet, Massachusetts. Though the day started out rainy, the sun came out around lunch time and a gentle breeze chased the remaining clouds out of the sky. By about 3:30 p.m., there was nothing overhead but blue. The sun was low in the west when I arrived at the beach. The cliff above the shore cast its encroaching shadows over the sand drawing ever closer to the waves, swallowing up inch by inch the remaining sunshine.
It was about an hour away from low tide and the sea was about as calm and the waves as gentle as they ever get. As always, I found myself captivated by everything the ocean leaves behind on the the sand in its retreat. Perhaps because the Palm Sunday gospel was very much on my mind, the stones grabbed my attention.
There were all varieties of stone to be seen: granite, sandstone, quartz, shale, conglomerate and kinds I cannot begin to identify. All of them were worn smooth and polished by the relentless work of the sea and sand. Each had been placed by the action of the waves into its own niche. Some are purest white without a single blemish. Others have two or more distinct colors woven together like ribbon. Still others are a checkered mix yielding a shade that is more than the sum of its constituents. I could not resist photographing them.
Taking pictures of stones might sound a little quirky and perhaps it is. Nevertheless, there is a point to my madness. Photography is for me a way of seeing, a way of noticing what I am normally prone to overlook in my haste. For that reason, I have a collection of photos featuring everything from sunsets to mushrooms of interest to no one besides me.
There is nothing so seemingly inert as a stone. Stone is a metaphor for everything hard, passionless and immovable. For that reason, it is difficult to imagine a stone shouting out in praise at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The few biblical commentators who bother to reflect on these words of Jesus dismiss them as hyperbole. But I’m not convinced. Jesus doesn’t waste words. When he speaks, it isn’t for dramatic effect. As is always the case with Jesus’ teachings, parables and figures of speech, there is a wealth of meaning lying beneath the surface for those with the patience to look for it. That is, with “those who have ears to hear.”
Physicists remind us that a stone is more than what it seems. Though it might appear solid and motionless, it is made up of atomic and subatomic particles seething with energy and motion. Stones are not passive objects. They are active participants with a universe in motion. If we give credence to St. Paul’s words in his letter to the church in Colossae, we understand that all of the molecular energy in that stone is held together and relationally ordered by and through Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17. As Martin Luther observed in his lectures on Genesis, God “spoke” the universe into being. Like everything else, the stone exists in response to God’s creative Word. The natural and appropriate existential response to being spoken into being is praise.
The Scriptures are not shy about attributing praise to what we consider inanimate forces and objects. For example, Psalm 148 calls upon fire, hail, snow, frost, wind, mountains, hills and trees to give praise to God. As Professor Christoph Schwobel reminds us: “God’s work creates effects that have being and order, and God’s work has to be understood as communicative action, even when it is not expressed as divine speech. The whole of creation is an ordered network of communicative relationships in which being and meaning are intrinsically connected.” “We Are All God’s Vocabulary,” published in Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy and Science, Vol. 1, Edited by Torrance, Andrew B. and McCall, Thomas H. (c. 2018, pub. by Zondervan) p. 51. The stone carries within it the ordering principles of creation moving it toward God’s promised goal of a new heaven and earth. Wet and glistening in the afternoon sunlight, it bears testimony to the Word that spoke it into being.
Yet, just as a stone can sing praises, a stone can lament. Human violence corrupts God’s good earth. Genesis 6:11-12; Psalm 74:20. John of Patmos refers to the oppressive Roman empire and its allies as “destroyers of the earth.” Revelation 11:18. The creation “groan[s] in travail” under the weight of human sin and, therefore, our salvation is its salvation as well. Romans 8:19-23. This coming Sunday we will hear again Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God. Why has thou forsaken me?” We should hear in that cry of anguish the cry of dying coral reefs, shrinking forests, animals on the verge of extinction, rivers clogged with mining runoff and stones washed ashore by waves of contaminated water. This, too, is the consequence of our species’ unique refusal to live joyfully, thankfully and obediently within the parameters of its creaturely limitations and striving instead to “be as God.”
Nevertheless, just as the whole creation shares the consequences of our evil, we share, albeit undeservedly, in creation’s redemption. I think perhaps that is why we have on Palm Sunday this one celebratory oasis in the otherwise somber season of Lent. We know that, whatever may lie ahead, our worst day is behind us. Not even our rejection of the best God had to give us could make God reject us. Our cruelty to God’s Son could not turn God against God’s creation, could not break the love that binds the Trinity, could not break God’s resolve to have us for God’s own. The love of God in Jesus Christ, in which “all things hold together,” is stronger than all the forces of evil that would rip creation to shreds. So, even in the shadow of the cross-no, especially there, we sing.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?
“My Life Flows On in Endless Song,” Robert Lowry published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, pub. by Augsburg Fortress). Hymn # 763.
Here is a poem by Marge Percy giving expression, wittingly or no, to creation’s praise for its Creator.
More than Enough
Source: Colors Passing Through Us (c. 2003 by Marge Piercy, pub by Alfred A. Knopf). Marge Piercy (b. 1936) is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. She is perhaps best known for her New York Times best seller, Gone to Soldiers, an historical novel set during the Second World War. Piercy was born in Detroit, Michigan and was the first in her family to attend college. She studied at the University of Michigan and won a Hopwood Award for Poetry and Fiction in 1957. This, in turn, allowed her to complete her college degree. She earned a Master’s Degree from Northwestern University in 1968. Piercy was a powerful advocate for feminism in the 1960s and 70s and a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. She has written seventeen volumes of poems and fifteen novels. You can find out more about Marge Piercy and sample more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation website.