"The Things that Make for Peace"
And so we have arrived at Holy Week. Our season of Lent is drawing to a close. We’re setting aside the parables of Jesus found only in Luke and now we dive right into the climax of Luke’s Gospel. We all know in the back of our minds that the big party is coming, but today is more of a crescendo than a true climax. Palm Sunday is a strange thing--a show of celebration and praise (made all the more joyful thanks to our kids!) set against a horizon heavy with storm clouds, piling up, dark and gray, one on top of the next, full of ominous portent.
Luke has been setting up this moment since chapter nine, when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. This journey has taken ten chapters, more than half of Luke’s Gospel to this point. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem just ahead of the Passover festival. Tensions were high in Jerusalem every year at this time. The people of Israel gathered to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt—or put another way, the overthrow of an oppressive empire. No wonder Pilate, who lived in Caesarea, not Jerusalem, made it his business to be present there until the festival ended. Surely the Roman soldiers stationed around the city were on high alert for any signs of insurrection.
So there was Pilate, the Romans, and the Jewish authorities who held the whole thing together—and into this brewing storm rides Jesus, on the back of a donkey colt.
As I mentioned the other night at SPC Together, we have four Gospels that tell four different accounts of Jesus’ life. We don’t have one single, pleasant, harmonized account. While we may be tempted to insert details and bits of narrative from other Gospels whenever we read one or the other, when we resist and pay as much attention to the discord as we do the harmonies, sometimes we find gold.
To that end, let’s really consider Luke’s account of Palm Sunday. First of all, there are NO PALMS—maybe we should call this donkey Sunday instead—and not a single hosanna breaks the lips of the assembly. Then there’s the matter of the assembly itself: a multitude of disciples, but no large, mixed crowd. These disciples quote from Psalm 118, as we just read, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” but don’t make any mention of Jesus as a King in the mold of David. Instead they cry out, “Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” Note that they miss what has become for us the most significant line of the Psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” They don’t see what’s coming.
Then we add the two most unique contributions Luke makes to our understanding of this day—first, the conversation with the Pharisees, and second, Jesus proceeding to weep over the city.
We can’t assume that the Pharisees were antagonistic to Jesus. After all, in the book of Acts Luke goes on to make account of several Pharisees who were among the believers. In the midst of the Passover tension, they may have been in effect saying, “Hey, Jesus, your people are going to get us all killed.”
Which brings us to the stones. Now I have always read the Pharisees as naysayers and Jesus declaring that the stones would join in celebration with all creation, but I’m not so sure. Creation doesn’t only participate through praise—Genesis tells us that after the fall the ground produced thorns and thistles. And here, immediately following Jesus’ declaration about the stones, he saw the city, and he wept over it. What if Jesus didn’t relish the parade, but rather knew it was simply how humanity always responds to power? Like it was a political inevitability? “Look guys,” he says to the concerned Pharisees, “If the people didn’t do it, the stones would, because that’s just the way it is—some things never change.”
So, Jesus finds himself overlooking the great city of the chosen people, the “city of peace,” and he laments. Not just crying, mind you, or shedding a tear, but weeping. And what does he say as he weeps? “If you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Perhaps Jesus recalled the stories his mother told about the shepherds who heard the angelic chorus singing “Peace on earth, goodwill to all,” and found it bitterly and frustratingly ironic that the crowd who cheered his entrance had exchanged earth for heaven. “Peace in Heaven and a fight for our freedom down here.” Like Jeremiah 6:14 says, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” Had Jesus spent his whole ministry showing his disciples the things that make for peace only to have them fail to see?
Jesus knows the destruction that lies down the path of conflict. He knows what the week ahead will bring, but he also knows what will befall the City of Peace in due time at the exasperated hands of the Romans.
While we’ve been exploring Jesus’ parables, our kids downstairs in the Godly Play classroom have been working with the stories of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. They have heard the stories of Jesus calling the children to himself, healing blind Bartimaeus, and of Zachaeus’ hospitality. I wonder if they might recognize the things that make for peace in those accounts.
- With the children, would they see inclusion?
- With Bartimaeus, would they recognize compassion?
- With Zachaeus, would they feel the relief of repentance, forgiveness, and the response of justice and hospitality?
- Would they see the radical humility of Jesus riding on the back of a donkey?
- And as Jesus weeps, would they sense the sting of lament?
Inclusion, compassion, hospitality, humility, and lament—surely these are among the things that make for peace.
We have many peacemakers here in our congregation who do “see the things that make for peace.” I pondered the question of “the things” with some of them over the past week, and Sue Warner-Bean shared the following story with me from her experience with Peace Trees Vietnam. Sue’s own brother died in the conflict, and over the course of several trips and many years she has developed strong relationships with other veterans and people from Vietnam. This is Jim’s story:
My friend Jim is a retired Marine, a Vietnam combat veteran who served in 1968. He left the Corps as a corporal when he was "blown apart by a booby trapped grenade." He nearly died and was hospitalized for 9 months. But it's the memories of his fellow Marine Jesus "Jesse" Griego that have remained foremost in his thoughts -- memories of a close friendship and of Jesse, his heart pierced by one small piece of shrapnel that snuck between the open zipper of his flak jacket, dying cradled in Jim's arms.
When I met Jim he carried the war inside him, literally and figuratively. He carried shrapnel and wounds in his body... and he still does. He woke up with the war in his heart every day. He carried the images and sounds of Jesse's final moments. And for four decades, he was haunted by the vision of Jesse's eyes when he woke in the morning and when he went to sleep at night. He carried survivor's guilt. He carried pain. He carried anger. So much to carry... and for such a long, long time.
Jim's turning point came when he learned there was something he could do in Jesse's name to serve the children of Vietnam and help create a better future for them. He raised funds to build a school honoring Jesse. It took every bit of Jim's time, effort, and emotional energy. It was a road paved with contradictions: uncertainty and deep fatigue, hope and fierce determination. It was more than fundraising. It was the work of choosing love instead of retaliation, and seeking forgiveness in place of guilt... the things, for him, that made for peace.
Images from the Palm Beach Post and Sue Warner-Bean.
I traveled with Jim to dedicate the school. At the Jesse Griego Kindergarten that day, I watched him finally lay down his heavy load of anger and pain and guilt. [SLIDE, JIM] When he lifted the cloth off the dedication plaque to reveal Jesse's name, the tears filled Jim's eyes. He looked at me and said, "For the first time in 41 years, it's OK to be alive."
Jim experienced lament, humility, inclusion, compassion, and hospitality. These are not soft things. Their practice is not easy. It took Jim 40 years to put them into place, to truly see them.
There’s one more profound thing Jesus says as he laments over the city. He declares through his tears that the destruction of Jerusalem will come, “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” God came near, and they missed it. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, fully God and fully human came and dwelt among us—moved into the neighborhood—and not even his closest disciples understood who he was until after his resurrection.
Just as God’s hand proved mighty on that first Passover night in Egypt, so too will God’s power be revealed this week. This week, Holy Week, is a chance for us to dispense with the illusion of our separateness from God. Friends, recognize your visitation.
[PLACE FIGURE] When we tell certain stories in the Godly Play classroom, we mark the nearness of God with our hand. We might say, “Then God came so close to Abram, and Abram came so close to God, that he knew what God wanted him to do.” This week hear your name in Abram’s place:
- Then God came so close to Lavonne
- Then God came so close to Don
- Then God came so close to Jeanette
- Then God came so close to you, and you came so close to God, that you know what God wants you to do.
Let us recognize the things that make for peace, embrace them, live them out, but always remember that God’s presence is the ultimate thing that makes for peace.