Processions need preparation. Many months ago I thought it would be a good idea—it would be fun to expand our processions in our congregation to not just include the children, but also us adults. But then the joy was quickly replaced by the work of preparing. There was first of all the planning to answer the question, “why?” And so, with sermons, bible studies, emails, and other avenues, we talked about how processions are nothing new to our society and nothing new to the Christian Church. Christians have joined together in processions on special Sundays for thousands of years. And on Palm Sunday we have the privilege to not just picture Jesus riding into Jerusalem in our minds. But we also can picture that by walking with our own two feet. So there’s the preparation of teaching. But there’s also the preparation of the logistics—All the what and what if sorts of questions. And I thank you all for your willingness to spend the time learning a way of worship that is both very old and common throughout Christian Churches, but very new to our own church. Processions need preparation. But, as we look back to the first Palm Sunday, our procession here this morning was far less involved than Jesus’ own procession. Luke gives us the details in the 19th chapter of his gospel: “28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.” (Luke 19:28–36 NIV11-GKE)
Look at all the details. What we need to see here are promises and prophecies. The Lord had made many promises about what would happen on this day. And he also made many promises on how these events would happen. And here we see the amazing care Jesus has in arranging and preparing this procession. And Luke carefully records this to let us know that, even if we do not have control of every situation, Jesus does. But, as these words travel on we see that there are more reasons why Jesus carefully plans and prepares this procession: “37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus prepares this procession so that God’s people would cry out in praise. The first way that they cry out in praise is to the Christ, the anointed one. Notice the two amazing titles they use for Jesus. They call him “the King.” Jesus was the son, the descendent of David. Jesus was the true King of Jerusalem. This was his city. This was his home. The second title they call him is the “Coming One”. This is a title we are not as used to. But it was one they knew very well. And all of these were powerful titles that these disciples cried out.
So they cried out to the Christ. But they also cried out to the heights and heavens. Why is it that they are crying out to the heights and heavens? There is where God was. Praise has a direction. Hands are lifted up to heaven. Here voices are lifted up as the people cry out in praise.
And here is where we ask the important question, “why is this so important?” This event is so important because there is nothing better or more beautiful in the ears of our Father in heaven than to hear his people praising him. For the fact that that has happened shows that a miracle has taken place. People do not naturally praise God. By nature, as we all come into this world, we all do not know who the true God is. And the little we do know about God, we hate. And so, when the Holy Spirit creates faith in us through is word, a miracle happens. And when we cry out in praise, our Father sees this and rejoices in this. And so, on this day, sing your “hosannas.” On this day, call Jesus by the names and titles he likes to be called by. Cry out in praise. But, my friends, that’s not the end of these words. In our final few verses, we read: “39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”” (Luke 19:39–40 NIV11-GKE)
These words take a strange turn in these last two verses. In the beginning words the people cry out in praise. But in these words, Jesus threatens to have the stones cry out. Now, my dear friends, here is where I invite you to listen closely so that you will know what these words mean and what they do not mean. When I was a child I thought that these words meant that God does not like to be alone. And so, if we didn’t exist, he would make stones alive so that they could praise him. That’s not what is going on here. Here in these words Jesus is reaching out to the Pharisees to call them to repentance. Here we are taken back to a very Old Testament way of speaking. You remember back to the very beginning when Cain killed Abel. Do your remember what the Lord said? He said these words: “9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9–10 NIV11-GKE)
Notice the point of these words. Cain had committed murder. The preaching in this passage is that there are some sins that are so grievous that they demand justice and punishment. And these sins are so violent and so grievous that if there is no one there to act as a witness, then the lifeless parts of creation will then be called on as witnesses to testify against the sin so that there can be vengeance. So, in Genesis, the Lord calls on blood as a witness against murder. Here on Palm Sunday Jesus calls on stones as witnesses against unbelief. The Pharisees who had more of God’s word at their fingertips and in their hearts and minds than so many others should have known that Jesus was the Christ. They should have been there with palm branches in their hands and praise on their lips. But instead, the only thing they had to offer was unbelief. And the heartless way they treated Jesus demands justice and vengeance.
What a strange place to end. Why couldn’t we have just said our “hosannas” and gone home in joy? Why do we need to hear of stones crying out for judgment? These words are a present and powerful reminder to us that all the days we are on this earth we will need to hear both law and gospel, both sin and grace. There will always be this need to crush our sinful nature with threats of vengeance and punishment. And my dear friends, there will always be the need to comfort our souls with the reminder of why Jesus came to Jerusalem at all. In one of our hymns, we sing:
Abel’s blood for vengeance Pleaded to the skies.
But the blood of Jesus For our pardon cries.1
And so, my dear friends in Christ, in humility be ever so willing to loudly and joyously cry out in praise to Jesus. But also, in humility, be ever so willing to let even the stones cry out in punishment against your sinful nature. For there will be a day when we are in heaven where there will be no stones to cry out against us. Instead, there will only be people to praise our King Jesus along with us. Amen.
1 CW 103:4