Just Another Week
Singing Stones - Luke 19:28-40
Just another week. Set the alarm. Start the coffee. Fold the laundry. Go to the gym. Head to work. Do the homework. Wash the dishes. Take out the garbage. Pay the bills. Service the car. Mail the birthday card. Buy the groceries. Watch some TV. Finish the novel.
As the world counts the hours, today begins just another week. For those of us who spend our lives paying attention to Jesus, though, this is anything but just another week. The Gospel writers spend more time talking about this coming week than all the other weeks in the life of Jesus combined. They know that in the coming week the clock will tick with its customary precision. They also know that during this week bold words will be spoken only to be choked on later and the powers that be will remind everyone who holds the reigns of power in this world. They will insist that the week ahead is just another week.
Mark and John, Matthew and Luke claim that the week ahead is a week that will give us a bird’s eye view on all the other weeks of our lives. In Luke’s Gospel, this week gets off to a raucous start. The “good behavior” police jump all over Jesus to demand that he silence the crowds who are shouting “Hosanna,” but instead he tells them about “singing stones.”
Here is a poem of mine in three perspectives – first from angry religious leaders, then from terrified disciples, and finally, from the perspective of Jesus himself. It is poem entitled, “Singing Stone.”
Shut them up, Jesus!
A little decorum please!
They’re making fools of themselves – and us!
Put your foot down, man!
What are you thinking, Jesus?
You know they have a point.
What will the Romans say about all this commotion?
One can never be too careful, especially here in Jerusalem.
I could try to quiet them but it wouldn’t work.
They can smell it in the air
And it makes them wanna shout.
I could try to silence them, but it’s too late.
Even if every last one of them were mute
These very stones would sing
Like a choir of angels
In full and glorious voice.
These very stones would sing a Gospel chorus
Warning of impending doom.
Fretting the failure of friends
Lamenting the acrid aroma of death.
Even if every last one never said another mumblin’ word,
These stones would sing
Of a day not like any other day
When even the stone they feared could not be moved
Just had to sing.
A Timely Word
Just another week. Migrants seeking asylum on the border. Easter packages arriving via Amazon Prime. NCAA enthusiasts still on Cloud Nine after Wahoo National Championship. Spring breakers fleeing town.
Just another week. That was the official party line coming out of Babylon Central. Nearly six centuries before Jesus, his ancestors found themselves living on foreign soil – and not by choice. They went to Babylonian schools, shopped in Babylonian markets, discussed Babylonian politics, attended Babylonian concerts. When Passover week arrived each year, in the Babylonian press, it was ignored because for them, it was just another week.
One alien living in Babylon refused to see any week in captivity as just another week. Isaiah writes of this faithful servant who declares: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of one who has been instructed to console the weary with a timely word.”
Isaiah knows what Babylon wants, but even more, he knows what his people need. They need “a timely word,” a reminder that while Babylon appears to be the governing force of the world, the Lord God has not given over that responsibility to Babylon. Isaiah stands at the intersection of downtown Babylon and shouts a timely word – and an unwelcome one. Isaiah shouts that Babylon is a pretender. Babylon is not something worth selling your soul.
A timely word is a truth-telling word. And truth-telling can be painful. Just ask Isaiah. He goes on to write, “I offered my back to the lash, and let my beard be plucked from my chin, I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”
Just ask the one mounted on the colt. Jesus will soon be mounted not on a colt, but a cross, from which he will not only announce, “a timely word”; he will be the timely word of God. He will be the timely word of God to all who are tempted to think that ultimate power resides in Babylon or Rome or Washington, D.C.
Jesus does not race on a mighty stead into this Holy Week that our society treats as just another week. He enters this week on a beast of burden. He tells us to slow down, look around, pay attention to each day. Do not sprint from today to Maundy Thursday. Do not race past Maundy Thursday as if it were any other day. Linger there for a while. Do not skip Good Friday as if it were just another TGIF. Walk deliberately on that day. Watch and pray on that day. Do not ignore Holy Saturday as if were just another day for errands. Sit in stillness and silence, wonder and awe.
Pay attention to each day in the coming week, to each haunting hour, so that we may well be prepared to return here next Sunday to rejoice in the resurrection promise of the timely word of God.
Tired by Grief
Just another week. The casseroles come in waves. Condolences are offered at the other end of nearly every call. New clothes are bought, but not for a party. Tears wash over us with no prior warning. You make one surreal trip to the Funeral home where it is hard just to breathe.
Just another week. The papers are signed. The divorce is final, at least by law. The children are still asking us to change our minds. Boxes are piled by the door, filled with memories we no longer want to remember.
Just another week. The pink slip is inside the paycheck and the lump in the throat feels like a boulder. Looming questions about what comes next hover like unwelcome bats in the night.
There are few sadder stories in Scripture than Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. And yet, there are also few stories in Scripture that I understand better. Jesus pleads with his disciples to keep watch with him on this holy and horrendous night. Try as they might, they cannot do it. Their heads nod and eyelids collapse because in the quaint words of the King James’ Version, the disciples were “tired by grief.”
Anyone who has trudged through grief can relate to these disciples. We know the fatigue, the constant ache in our bones, how it takes ten times the energy to do the simplest things.
On 9/11, our daughter, Erin, was on the 14th Street Bridge going into D.C. when a plane flew into the Pentagon. The scene quickly turned surreal. Before all phone lines were tied in a knot, Erin called us in absolute hysteria and understandably so. After inching her way back home, she climbed into her bed and slept until the next morning. Tired by grief.
It is tempting to read the account in the garden and ask, “How could the disciples have deserted Jesus in his time of greatest need?” If you have ever been tired by grief, you will not ask that question because you already know the answer. You know all about nodding off, because sleep is the only escape for the pain and it does not last nearly long enough.
I think somewhere there must be filed an official two-week grief rule in America. You can weep and lament, sleep and wander about aimlessly for about fourteen days max. After that, you need to get over it, move on, keep a stiff upper lip, count your blessings. I could go on, but you can add your own grief cliché; there must be a million of them.
Grief, though, refuses to obey any arbitrary rules. It lingers when you wish it would get lost. It makes you tired when you wish you had some energy. Like a thief, it ambushes you in the most inopportune times. Just ask Peter or James or John snoring in the garden while Jesus is literally sweating blood.
American common sense would argue that when you and I walk out of this sanctuary, we not give Holy Week another thought, that we fast forward past the dark days that lie ahead and treat this as just another week. Gospel sense pleads with us to resist that urge, to honor the grief within us and the grief that this week will throw at us.
If you really want to get ready for Easter, be here on Thursday night, dive into prayer on a Friday the church dares to call “good,” and hold your breath on a Saturday that seems like the longest day of the year. If you really want to get ready for Easter, make sure that this is not just another week.