“The Stones Will Shout”
Sometimes I really appreciate the silence. When the TV or the radio has been blaring for a long time, it is lovely just to switch off all the noise for a while. When I’ve been in a busy restaurant or conference hall filled with the sounds of loud conversation and laughter all around, stepping outside into the quiet is a gift. And folks have told me that even in our worship, with all the music and all the words, some silence is received with gratitude – some quiet moments for personal reflection and lifting up the prayers that are in our hearts.
Of course, silence is not always golden – when the quiet comes from isolation and goes hand-in-hand with loneliness. Some of us have experienced a bit of that kind of silence in the last couple of years. We know the gift of a friendly voice on the phone or a visitor at the door after many days of restless quiet and unwelcome solitude.
And silence can be deadly when someone in trouble is unable to express what they need from others. It could be a young woman too scared to say something when her teacher or uncle is touching her inappropriately or making her uncomfortable with his comments.
And how often it happens that someone struggling with mental health issues does so alone! They don’t know how to express their utter despair or to explain the paranoid thoughts that are plaguing them. The stigma associated with these illnesses and fear of rejection keeps them silent, and the results are so often tragic for them and for those that love them.
Not long ago, I had the experience of sitting with someone who was quite ill. And there were times when her severe coughing and her difficulty in breathing made it almost impossible to speak. When a nurse came to help, she couldn’t get out the words to say what she needed. So very often I became her voice – explaining the symptoms I was seeing, expressing what I thought might help, and watching carefully for her nodding or shaking her head.
And the gifts of peace and quiet that we very often appreciate are not the same as “being silenced” – when someone tells you subtly or even directly that your voice is not worth listening to. That’s what the religious leaders in today’s Gospel text were trying to do to the disciples. They pressured Jesus to shut them up – to silence their expressions of praise and devotion to him.
When the crowds sang, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” the Pharisees likely worried about the political implications. They couldn’t have all these people declaring their allegiance to Jesus as a king. That would mean a revolt against the established Roman ruler, and surely trouble to follow. So the Pharisees tried to quiet the people – appealing to their leader, Jesus, to recognize how dangerous this demonstration could be.
I love Jesus’ response. He answered, “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.” In other words, the cry of the people for a saviour, for a king of peace, for justice and righteousness and goodness to prevail in the land – that cry will not be silenced by religious leaders or political powers. It won’t be quieted by those who want to keep the status quo because it’s good for them at the expense of the poor and outcast.
Jesus says that even if powerful forces silence the voices of his followers, the whole of creation will shout out the glory of the God of love, justice, and peace. It reminds me of Psalm 19 in which King David sang, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork… There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
And it’s not only the beautiful parts of creation that will speak – the twinkling stars in the night sky, the flowers and meadows and gentle streams of water. Jesus says that even the stones will shout out that God is, and blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. The stones that seem so hard, and heavy, and silent – they will erupt in joyous praise of God, declaring allegiance to the one who embodies God’s love and comes to save us all.
Reading this story at the beginning of Holy Week, it is hard to ignore the fact that the disciples and the crowds will soon fall silent. Jesus’ friends will go with him into Jerusalem. They will see him clear the temple of people selling things instead of praying. And they will keep on listening to Jesus’ teaching as he declares judgment on those who pervert the faith and take advantage of the poor and helpless.
But when the festival of the Passover arrives, and they share a final meal with their teacher, he already knows that some of them will soon speak against him, and others will keep their mouths shut in fear or confusion. I wonder if any of them heard what Jesus said a few days earlier to the religious leaders who were trying to quiet them down: “If these [disciples] were silent, the stones would shout out.”
And Jesus was right. His ability to accomplish his mission of saving the people from sin and sadness, of inaugurating the Reign of God with peace and justice and love, was not dependant on the steady commitment and faithfulness of his followers.
It’s not that he wouldn’t have been devastated by their words of denial, or their acts of betrayal, or their silence as he faced arrest and crucifixion, but God’s purposes would not be thwarted by our human failure to stand up and to speak out for what is right.
The whole of creation – and even the stones themselves – would shout out in praise of the king who comes in the name of the Lord. And by the love and power of God, Jesus’ rejection and execution at human hands would be overcome by resurrection and new life that comes only from God.
I find that somewhat reassuring when I think about our mission in the world as Christians: to share the Gospel, and enact God’s love, and care for the poor, and work for justice and peace. Sometimes, when it seems like war, conflict, oppression, and hate are winning at every turn, I need to remind myself that love is God’s mission in the world.
And though I’m called to participate in God’s mission, I’m not ultimately responsible for the mission’s success. God will do it. And God’s goodness is stronger than evil, God’s love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and life is stronger than death.
Nonetheless, as we hear the stories this Holy Week of the early disciples falling away and becoming silent in the face of injustice, we are invited to choose another way. We are called to take courage because we know that with God’s help, we can participate in the good that God is bringing about in the world. We know that God’s love will be victorious in the end.
So we are invited to use our voices to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are challenged to start taking about the real challenges of people’s lives that are stigmatized or ignored. We are encouraged to create safe spaces and relationships in which vulnerable people can confide in us and receive the support they need.
We are prompted to reach out to those who are lonely with words of friendship and care. And we are implored to recognize the times when certain people, voices, or perspectives are silenced because of their age, gender, colour, or culture, and to listen and seek to understand.
There is an interesting play on words in the text where Jesus says, “If these were silent, the stones would shout out.” It doesn’t show up in the English or even in the Greek text of the New Testament. But it’s there in the Hebrew where the Hebrew word for “stones” – abanim – sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for “children” – banim.
If that play on words was part of Jesus’ intention, he may have meant that not only the creation would proclaim God’s love in Jesus, but maybe also the children would do so – the little ones, the people without much status or power, the left out or lost ones, the folks who recognized their need for God.
Reflecting on the idea of the children crying out made me think of the many new discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former Residential Schools across Canada. Although the Truth and Reconciliation process has been creating space for many years now for survivors of the schools to speak about their experiences and to finally be heard, it feels like this year the children who died have been crying out for us all to pay attention and to acknowledge both our tragic history and its ongoing legacy of harm.
Indigenous people have been silenced for a long time through colonization and the loss of language, culture, spirituality, and dignity that went along with it. But the banim are shouting out today. The children are calling us all to listen and to work together for justice and righteousness, for healing and even reconciliation in our country.
In our TRC Learning Session this afternoon, the focus will be on Call to Action #61 which calls the churches to provide permanent funding for healing and reconciliation, walking together with Indigenous people, and having them guide and direct the use of funds.
A few weeks ago, the committee responsible for our Church’s new “Honouring the Children Fund” approved funding for a project at Round Lake, Saskatchewan, the former site of a Presbyterian and then United Church-operated Residential School.
The project will include a memorial for the children who died there, as well as educational materials around the site at Camp McKay to teach visitors about the history. It will also feature a healing garden and a splash pad for the benefit of the Indigenous people and others who come to Camp McKay for retreats, family camps, and traditional ceremonies.
Headwoman Shelly Bear of Ochapawace First Nation explained to us that the splash pad will include important symbols of the culture like the buffalo and the eagle’s nest. But most importantly, it will help to transform the site into a place of healing and joy. The Elders want to hear the laughter of children once again, and a little Presbyterian funding will help to accomplish this goal.
On this Palm Sunday, let us raise our voices in praise of Jesus – the blessed king who comes in the name of the Lord. And if, after a time, our voices too fall silent, let it not be the silence of fear, confusion, or indifference. In the quiet, let us listen carefully for the stones that will not cease to shout out, for the abanim and the banim (the children) whose voices are calling out for us to hear and to respond. And before long, let us join in their song of justice, love, and reconciliation, which we can be sure, will be accomplished by the power of God.