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St. Luke Presbyterian Church

Heavenly Peace

This is Palm Sunday, although you wouldn’t know it based on Luke’s version of the story. Luke has no mention of palms. All four Gospels write about this day and only Luke leaves out the palms. We’ve come to understand Palms as symbols of peace, like a dove, but they were most often used for military parades. Palms were an expression of liberation and victory. The expectation of the people is that Jesus has come to liberate them from the roman rulers. But Luke leaves out the palms because Luke is concerned with a different kind of liberation. One that is born from peace and dies in peace. 

We hear that from the beginning of the this morning’s scripture, in reference to Zechariah’s prophecy. If Jesus is to do this right, there are prophecies that the Messiah must fulfill, beginning with a good entrance 

Zechariah-

See, your king comes to you,
     righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
     on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
     and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
     and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
     His rule will extend from sea to sea
     and from the River[b] to the ends of the earth.

And before this humble entry, Luke begins with this odd scene of acquiring a donkey, a colt. They’re used synonymously here. Basically, Jesus sends two of his disciples to go steal one. To untie one. This word, untie is used 4 times. That was pointed out to me in Bible study. So we looked it up…the word here can be used literally as in to loosen to unbind, but it can also be used figuratively; to release what has been held back. 

This donkey on which, according to Jesus, no man has ever sat on before, will be released…and what has been held back, tied up will now ride into Jerusalem, the city of peace. In other words, peace through Jesus Christ will be released into Jerusalem, the city of peace.

Luke is most concerned with peace. 

And if that’s not enough…. 

Luke takes us back to the beginning… to Christ's birth, first with this word multitude…Luke tells us there was a multitude of disciples. Luke was a preacher, ask any preacher how many were there on Sunday and they’ll tell you a multitude.[1] 

That should sound familiar. There were also a multitude at Christ’s birth, only there it was a multitude of angels. Today its a multitude of disciples. 

But Luke doesn’t stop there, he brings us a distant melody of the angel’s song that was sung at his birth, remember? the Song they sang to the shepherds…. 

The angels sang…

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  (2:14) 

And luke is echoing this…in this morning’s scripture, when the multitude of disciples shout; “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (19:38b) 

But he rewrote the words. peace on earth got changed to peace in heaven.[2] 

Why would he do that? As Jesus enters into his final week, towards the cross, peace is moving on, to the heavenly realm. But peace has yet to be accomplished here on earth. We know this in the verses we didn’t hear that will come next when Jesus will weep over Jerusalem, lamenting “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 

The lament is tomorrow’s story. It hangs over our heads because we know how this week will end on Good Friday, Holy Saturday. 

But we’re not there yet. Today we wave our palms despite Luke’s absence of them. We sing Hosanna. We sing our own song of hope for peace because as followers of Jesus Christ, we’ve become the multitude. We’re the multitude now. 

Luke rewrites the angel songs so that we would sing it now. Whether you’re an angel or a disciple, if you’re here today you’re part of the multitude.

If Luke rewrites the angels song to carry peace up to heaven, it’s because it’s everywhere now, in the same way Christ is everywhere on Easter, becoming one with us, within us and surrounding us. As a multitude we are left behind to fulfill the mission of the one who was peace incarnated at birth. 

~~~~~~~~~

On Friday, a few of us went over to the Seminary for the kick off of the Shaw Chaplaincy Institute for Spiritual Care and Compassionate Leadership. The institutes director, The Rev. Dr. Laurie Garrett-Cobbina spoke last. I can’t remember her exact words, but they were centered around caring. I understood her basic point to be, that everything worthwhile, is worthwhile because you care about it. Whether it’s people, or your work, or this world, we do what we do, because we care.

As part of the multitude, we do what we do because we care…and because we follow into Jerusalem, the one who cared so much, he was willing to die for us. 

Luke rewrites the angel songs so that we would sing it now.. Biblically speaking angels have many roles… 

They’re messengers, holy warriors, witnesses, worshippers and perhaps most importantly for Luke’s Jesus, they are protectors of those who are in need. The Jesus we follow is most concerned for the lowest, those in need, those who are hungry, without shelter, those who are sick, those who are victims of larger systems of injustice and oppression. 

As part of the caring multitude, you have a song to sing. It’s the same as the angels, only it comes with a responsibility to carry out what Jesus began here on earth.

Peace was not accomplished when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Division was prevalent. Jesus in chapter 12 of Luke says this himself, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!” 

Or as Rev Amy Allen writes; 

Such division, however, does not properly come from Jesus himself, but rather, is engrained in the fabric of his society by the Roman colonial powers.  In order to maintain control over such a vast domain the Roman Empire engaged in a system of divide and conquer—pitting local groups against one another.  In the case of the first century Jewish population of Palestine, this was achieved through a systematic undermining of the religious leadership.

The same systems of divide and conquer are being used today. There’s an undermining of all groups of people whenever there’s name calling, other calling. Seeds of division are being planted all around us. The shouting we take on is not about whether it’s true, it should be about holding those who make the statements accountable for trying to pit us against one another. The shouting should be over all the incendiary statements that have been allowed to become the norm. Seeds of fear and intolerance are being planted multiple times a day by all sides, and they are being used to divide us.

To sing the angels song of peace, to shout the disciples song of peace, is sing of unity. Of unity in diversity. As part of the multitude following Christ, our song is His song. As followers of Jesus Christ, it’s to care for the least of those among us. To bring peace in Lukes gospel, means caring enough to speak up for those who have no voice, simultaneously exposing corrupt powers and systems of injustice.

Why?  Because we care. Because we care deeply. 

Luke rewrites the angel songs so that we would sing it now. 

We sing it through service. We sing it by reaching out to the greater community. We sing it by reaching out to one another in times of need. But we also sing it by holding those who are attempting to divide us accountable.

This is palm Sunday. Without Palms. Because this isn’t a military parade for Luke. Its a peace march. And Jesus is calling on us to be the multitude of angels and disciples in a world filled with division. To mend, to heal to listen, to care. To do so at times with respect and patience, and other times to shout, because if we don’t even the stones would shout for us.

Luke rewrites the angel songs so that we would sing it now.

There’s many songs, we call them, in Luke’s Gospel. Zachariah’s song. Mary’s song, and Simeon’s song. You remember Simeon? Simeon is the old man, righteous and devout who was hanging around the temple, just as many old faithfuls keep hanging around old churches, despite the turnover of pastors, the infighting, the division, there they are, caring for the church, because they ultimately care about God more than any of that.

Mary and Joseph bring their baby to fulfill the covenant with God, and there’s Simeon. 

Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, singing:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

Then Simeon looked at Mary, I imagine with a kind of broken hearted sympathy…. I imagine the hymn Silent Night playing in the background…

And I can hear the angles singing of sleeping in heavenly peace….only it’s different now. They’re not singing over a baby….they’re singing over a grown man.  The man who cared so ultimately for us, he was willing to die for us….and as that song is playing….

Simeon turns to Mary, the young woman who gave birth to him and says….

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.

Some will reveal cruelty. Others will reveal love.

The angels song is rewritten so that we might sing it now.

Amen.

[1] Mark Trotter

[2] https://politicaltheology.com/rewriting-the-angels-song-the-politics-of-luke-1928-40/

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