Stones cry out with joy
Peter Gallagher SJ looks at the tension between noise and silence, joy and grief as we approach the Passion.
And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him: Teacher, rebuke your disciples. He answered, I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.
We are not indifferent to the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. A warm welcome to Christ our Saviour springs to our lips. Our hearts leap up. The critics think we should be rebuked for excessive enthusiasm. Those hostile to his entering the holy city ask the Lord to restrain us.
Even among disciples, there can be an impulse not to welcome Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. Our temptation to keep silence can be provoked by a justifiable fear. The Saviour is going to a place of great danger and we are anxious for him. The Passion awaits. The Lord is embarking on a difficult road on which it is our devout intention to walk with him. Jesus might be better accompanied by our prayerful compassion not by cries of joy.
The whole group of disciples began joyfully to praise God at the top of their voices
Resistance to taking part in this praise could arise from guilt. As sinners we understand that we share some responsibility for the suffering of Jesus so we are muted in our response to his arrival in Jerusalem. The joyful disciples at the first Palm Sunday were thinking of all the miracles that the Lord had worked. Less enthusiastic onlookers might be thinking of the miracles that have not been worked. The great miracle that is the resurrection will not take place until there has been suffering and death. So great will be Christ’s pain that even those who are not his friends might tremble for him.
The Lord’s response to our fear or guilt or pity is the same as to the critic who thought the hosannas excessive: he answered, I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out. Jesus arrives for the last and most difficult part of his mission. The witnesses welcome him and try to find words to express what is heartfelt. We also seek the right words. The Lord provides us with speech. The hosanna of joy at salvation can include in itself any fear and guilt which afflict us. However the dominant note is thanksgiving and joy. The Lord arrives in the place where he has to be and his friends are grateful and glad. The work he is about to carry out has been long foretold. Salvation has been built in to the structure of things.
Our noisy rejoicing at the arrival of Christ at the beginning of Holy Week accommodates all that we are feeling and expect to feel in the days to come. We anxiously anticipate the Lord’s suffering. However we also look forward to the rescuing of us which his ordeal achieves. We welcome Jesus and the culmination of his great work.
Every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
The critics who think that Jesus should rebuke those rejoicing may suspect that the Lord does not properly know the people who are shouting Hosanna. Yet he knows them through and through. He understands their gratitude for miracles worked. He knows also that some of them will later cry crucify him. Jesus also knows King Herod. In his palace, he will be in the presence of treachery. Jesus knows the presence of an enemy. If the stones of the Herodian mansion could speak, they would express hatred and rejection. Jesus is silent before complete resistance to his love. Herod, to whom he might say so much, cannot understand him. In some hearts, the saviour is not welcome. For the moment Jesus remains silent. The judge does not yet speak.
The Lord speaks
The passion of Christ takes place amid much noise. There is the hubbub of the crowded city. Silence did not enshroud Calvary until the very end. Jesus, the Lamb of God led to slaughter, is not yet completely quiet. He speaks to his disciples as long as they remain with him. He converses with the chief priests and captains of the temple guard and the elders who came to arrest him He answers the questions which are put to him at break of day in the council He answers Pilate’s inquiry also. He speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem. He prays aloud to his Father for the forgiveness of his executioners. He addresses the good thief kindly. He cries out in a loud voice, and says Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.
The Lord’s words invite our careful meditation. Accompanying Jesus through Holy Week in prayer, we are inclined to be silent. By the horror of the Passion we are stunned: in shock, we cannot speak. There is also a contemplative silence in which we strive to understand the events in Jerusalem. To accept the grace of the Holy Spirit we willingly quiet ourselves.
Nevertheless Holy Week is full of words: words read; words sung; words murmured. We find them echoing in our hearts. They allow us to accompany Christ. When He falls silent, words are provided to allow us approach Him to seek mercy and reconciliation. In a word-filled Vigil we will await the feast of his Resurrection.
If these were silent, the very stones would cry out
At certain moments on Palm Sunday and in Holy Week our own words fail us. It is too difficult to express all that we are thinking and feeling. In the silence we continue to welcome as best we can Christ our Saviour. The structure of Holy Week provides all that is needed including words which may be lacking in us. The commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ begins once more and will continue to its destined conclusion Jesus has arrived. The Son of Man goes to his fate even as it has been decreed.
Peter Gallagher SJ