“The Things That Make for Peace”
Ruling Elder Susan Orr, Presbyter for Mission & Education
Teaching Elder James R. Renfrew, Pastor
Palm Sunday. Some of us have heard this story more times than we can count. Maybe some of us have not heard it even once. Either way, we believe it is a story that has the power to capture the attention of all who seek after truth and hope and peace.
The story is told in each of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. On a colt brought to him by the disciples, Jesus rode off from the village of Bethany towards Jerusalem. For his followers it was a big day, the culmination of their long journey from their distant rural villages and now reaching the great city of Jerusalem. All of the disciples were excited, singing, shouting, Hosannas. What a day! For Jesus it was something else. The day would begin with a parade, but it would end in a disaster, a disaster that Jesus fully expected.
The gospel writers each tell the story in such a way that you can picture it – hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people lining the streets and waving their palms as Jesus went by. But it might have only numbered a few dozen. No matter; Jesus’ followers were cheering and laughing, thinking that Jesus’ time had come. Whether hundreds or thousands in number, or as few as a dozen, we also claim our worship space as holy ground for Jesus’ peace to begin to grow. Children are laughing, adults are shouting, and the choir is singing. Something is definitely happening. Hosanna! Let the shouts reach to heaven. Let the hosannas ring to the end of the earth. Let Caesar and Herod shake in their boots. Let the long oppressed peoples rise up and rejoice. Here comes the Messiah, come to change the world. Hosanna! Grab a palm branch and shout!
As they came along the road from the Mount of Olives, the city came into view and Jesus paused there to look out upon it. His followers were trying to surge forward exultantly towards the goal, but Jesus paused when he saw the city across the valley. You can see a photo on the cover of the bulletin where I think the exact spot was that he stopped. Take a look, the same view that Jesus saw. Imagine what he was thinking. He did not stop to gloat in anticipation of victory over his enemies. He didn’t give a powerful speech to motivate his followers. In one of the most remarkable portrayals of Jesus in all of the Gospels, Luke tells us that Jesus paused to weep. Jesus weeping. What an unexpected moment. This was supposed to be the moment of triumph, but Jesus is crying! Weeping not for himself and the suffering he was about to undergo on the cross, but for his people and the destruction that would engulf them. He wept for all of them; he weeps for us. He was looking at the city, thinking about what would happen to himself, but even more he was thinking about people like us, thinking about what it would take to save us from ourselves. He was looking at the city, but he was thinking about the cross.
“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.”
I was privileged to look out upon the city of Jerusalem last May. It was during the Mosaic of Peace Conference to Israel and Palestine organized by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, an organization committed to finding peaceful paths in volatile, dangerous and explosive parts of the world.
We, too, found many reasons to weep as we looked out over Jerusalem. Not just for ourselves, but for all the people who live in an environment of prejudice, anger, hurt, distrust, and fear. In fact, we can weep long and hard: suicide attacks on buses, missiles landing in crowded neighborhoods, armed guards at check points, cement walls built high to divide people, underground tunnels, threats and posturing, boycotts and blockades, land grabs, extremists on all sides, and on and on it goes. So many groups with grievances towards one another: Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Christians. Grievances that took shape centuries ago. Grievances that draw many other countries, including our own, into the heart of the conflict. Grievances rekindled even as we worship this morning. We come here on Palm Sunday in joy, but make no mistake: there is a lot of weeping.
You don’t have to be in Jerusalem to see these things or to feel these tears. When we look out upon our cities, our towns, our villages, we too might can find plenty of reasons to weep if we pause to contemplate all the senseless violence and injustice of our world, the misunderstandings and the disputes, the things that keep people divided from one another and separated from God. The things that make for peace are hid from our eyes. How often we pray we could see more clearly.
The things that make for peace? The truth is that we know more about the things that make for war and violence, more about avoiding problems, more about denying responsibility, more about manipulating, arguing, threatening, and provoking! How right he was when Jesus said that the things that make for peace are hidden from our eyes!
Jesus paused as he looked at the city and he wept. What are the things that make you weep? It’s not just personal relationships that we struggle with. News from the world around us is often far worse. I weep when I think about cruel dictators and their many abuses. I weep when I contemplate landmines, drones, chemical and nuclear weapons. I weep when I see the terrible bargain we have made to reduce funds for schools, medical care and housing while spending billions on the latest weapons. I weep for nations that cannot even agree to sit down and talk. But most of all I weep for our numbness, our belief that our opinions don’t count, our belief that there is nothing we can do. And I weep for our children who will inherit this world from us, a world that blinds itself to the things that make for peace, even as God struggles to reveal them. What will it take for us to notice? Maybe a parade is the place to start!
There are many reasons to weep. But we think it’s important to always return to the joy that is at the heart of our faith. The joy of happy children. They joy of old friends reuniting. The joy of new flowers in the garden. The joy of smiles and songs. Sure, we know the Cross is just around the corner, but we need to build up a reservoir of joy to carry us through the hard times.
Anyone can complain about the fallen ways of the world. When Jesus wept he was not just objecting. For Jesus it was a genuine moment of deep compassion for those who struggle to find the things that make for peace. He paused to weep, but in doing so he strengthened his resolve to carry on. More than complaining, he committed himself to us no matter what the cost, that we might come to recognize our peace comes from God and no other.
Jesus did not weep for long. He soon went down into Jerusalem, down that path you see on the cover of the bulletin, to challenge the human habits, systems, and patterns that hide the peace God so badly wants to give.
I met some remarkable people on my journey to Jerusalem. People who see beyond their tears. People whose vision and living gives us all hope for peace, someday, in this land.
Like Yehuda who formed Breaking the Silence, an organization of veterans who served in the Israeli army during the second intifada. He served in the IDF 2001-2004 mostly in Hebron, the second largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, and the only city where Jewish and Palestinian families share adjacent house walls. Breaking the Silence began as an exhibition of testimonies and photographs taken by soldiers who served in Hebron. In sharing their stories, these young men and women hope to stimulate public debate about the price Israeli society as a whole has been paying for a reality in which young soldiers face – and control – a civilian population on an everyday basis. Yehuda said to us, “The best military operation is the worst moral option on the table.”
Or Sindyanna of Galilee: a fair trade co-op led by Israeli and Arab women, in a culture and political climate that would otherwise keep them separate and silent. This mission began in 1993 by serving as the “missing link” between the Arab farmer and the Israeli market. Sindyanna has since evolved into deep friendship between Arabs and Jews, women working together in cooperation towards the mutual goal of economic independence and social change.
And finally, the charismatic “Abuna” Father Elias, Archbishop Emeritus of the Melkite Church, and a Palestinian Arab Christian displaced by the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Although he has Israeli citizenship, he is subject to many of the 50+ laws that distinguish between citizens who are Jewish and citizens who are not. He was ordained in 1965 and sent to the struggling parish of Ibillin where he stayed for 38 years, creating summer camps and high schools, struggling and eventually obtaining building permits by visiting Secretary of State James Baker (“I remembered the shortest way from Nazareth to Jerusalem was through Washington DC!”. 60% of the children served by the school are Muslim. Father Chacour told us, “We did not want them to join us but to enjoy with us, to be our partners, not our guests.” In 1999, their doors opened to Jewish students as well.
We have been called by God to follow Jesus in the same way, to turn from our tears and to go on down into the city to uncover the things that make for peace, and to put them before the eyes of the world. Perhaps few will want to see what God wants to reveal, but the apathy and uncaring of others did not stop him; it shouldn’t stop us.
If the things that make for peace are missing in your life, the Palm Sunday parade is for you. If the things that make for peace are missing in the world around you, the new life offered by Jesus Christ can make all the difference in the world. It’s a parade full of joy and laughing. Peace is impossible! Jesus is coming. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.