The reality of the situation this morning is, that after the story we read and heard, I feel emotionally tired and confused. We could rename this day, Whiplash Sunday. Palm Sunday is the most emotionally confusing day in the whole liturgical calendar. Why do we start with Jesus being proclaimed King, only to witness the whole story of him being betrayed, condemned, crucified, and dying, and then leave it there. Waiting for the rest of this week to reenact the story again. What is there to be gained from starting in triumph, only to end in defeat? What is there to be gained from starting in celebratory community, only to end in personal isolation? What do we gain from listening to the hopes of an entire people for their freedom, only to end in their leader being nailed to a cross?
There is a deep seated irony in the layout of the church service this morning. We come together to share this story, letting it rest in death for a while, and then after the prayers, and the peace, we are going to celebrate the rest of the story in Eucharist, in sharing communion, before we have even told the whole story.
Yet, it is into this irony that we must walk. The paradox of this week is that it is the greatest journey of our lives. This is part of the reason we do it over and over again every year. We celebrate a terrible story of human pain and suffering, because the ending is the defeat of all pain and suffering. We share this story this morning because this paradox of killing our Savior takes time to sink in, to stretch our minds, our hearts, so that we will be open to the working of God in our lives. This paradox turns our worlds upside down, inside out, front to back, in the best way imaginable.
I have a lot of favorite things about Jesus and his way of doing ministry on this earth. One of my favorites is his ingenious way of using the ordinary things of this created existence, the every day materials, to share extraordinary ideas. It is another paradox, for a day saturated in paradox, that the ordinary can be extraordinary. What strikes me as ordinary in the Passion gospel story today – but as also extraordinary, is the image of the rocks splitting at the end.
A stone takes time to make - thousands of years to make. And yet, we see the rocks splitting in this story almost instantaneously. Bible imagery of stones is not one typically talked about. We talk about bread and wine, we talk about fish and boats and water, we talk about the wilderness, we talk about hearts and minds and bodies, we talk about tents and temples, but not stones.
Yet, stones, the end result of soil being compacted through pressure for a long time into something very solid, stones are littered throughout scripture. I can think of Jacob's pillow when he dreams of the ladder to heaven, countless altars, pillars, idols, the foundations and pillars of the temple, the imagery of the chief cornerstone from the psalms, the tablets of stone on which are written the ten commandments, the stone with which David kills Goliath, the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the heart of stone imagery, stones crying out, children of Abraham being made out of stones, Jesus' temptation to make bread out of stones, the destruction of the temple, not one stone will be left upon another... all the way from the beginning of creation through to the splitting of the rocks and tombs of stone being opened when Jesus dies.
In every day literature, we use stones to represent the most basic of things and situations. Stone walls to keep each other out or to keep ourselves and our stuff safely inside. And those stones take time to break. In a way, we are given time, this Holy Week, to contemplate the stones set before us now. We need time to contemplate, to meditate, we need this week to see the stones before us and figure out how to knock them down. So that when we get to the tomb, we don’t get entrapped by his rock. We are left with the image at the end of the passage of the earth shaking and stones being split. How extraordinary!