So there was a game last Saturday night — Duke and UNC in the Final Four. We don’t need to talk about Monday. But Saturday night. Remember that game? Of course you do. Many of you were still wearing your UNC gear to celebrate the following morning. Part of me wondered if you’d even changed from the night before. And I couldn’t help but notice that some of y’all were dragging on Sunday morning. It was a late night for many of you, I know.
And as I scrolled social media the next day, I kept getting hit with reminder after reminder of the game’s outcome. I don’t know why I put myself through that, and as a Duke grad, I had to keep repeating some Biblical mantras to myself: “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…”
But holy moly. It was hard to believe the images from Top of the Hill and those from the helicopters overhead showing the mass of people who rushed Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill after the game.
I’m sure it was amazing. Caught up in that sea of people, full to the brim with joy, a night you’ll remember forever, no doubt — giving yourself over to something greater than yourself and feeling a part of something so much bigger — losing yourself in it all.
I know the feeling. For me it was in 2015 when I joined the watch party at Cameron Indoor to see Duke beat Wisconsin to win the National Championship. (I had to throw that in there.) But as great as that was, it had nothing on the following year, November 2, 2016, when, after 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series. What many of you felt last Saturday night — that was me when Bryant threw to Rizzo to record the final out in Game 7. I laughed. I cried. I air-punched. I was laid out on the floor. I remember calling my mom the next day and saying, “Mom, we finally did it. I think this is the greatest day of my life.” And you want to talk about a sea of people? The parade to celebrate the Cubs’ championship marked the seventh-largest gathering in human history with an estimated five million-plus people.
Maybe you’re not a sports person. Maybe, for you, that full-to-the-brim, can’t-contain-it sort of joy has come in the birth of a child, a college acceptance letter, a proposal, a surprise party. Whatever it is, I wonder if you’ve experienced that level of exuberance and joy that just causes you to lose all your inhibitions and give yourself over to something else.
And today’s story, the traditional Palm Sunday reading, it has all of that: abundant joy, ecstatic relief — even a parade, and we’ll get into it all here shortly. But first, a quick reminder that for one more week, we’re in the season of Lent.
Lent is the forty-day season in our church calendar in which we prepare for the heartbreak and hope of Holy Week and Easter, and today is our final Sunday of this season. Today, Palm/Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. We’ve waved palms and the kids paraded as a way of celebrating and entering into the drama set in motion today as Jesus enters Jerusalem. And it all culminates in the events we’ll mark on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday of this week — the last supper and subsequent betrayal, sentencing, and death. Even this morning, you’ll experience that drama — that movement, as we move from Palm to Passion throughout the service.
We’ve been guided in this season by a sermon series that I know I’ve needed, and I hope you have, too. It’s called Full to the Brim. Often, Lent becomes about giving something up or taking something on — about self-flagellation and self-denial. But this year, as hard as the last two years have been, as heavy as the world is right now, this year, we’ve recalibrated our Lenten focus to be about instead orienting our lives to experience the fullness of what God has for us — already.
That’s what this series, “Full to the Brim,” has been about. In some ways, it’s sort of the anti-Lent in that way. Instead of one more thing to do or take on or give up, all this season asks of you is to simply receive the goodness of God that is already abundant.
And our theme for this week is this: “Full to the Brim: Even the Stones Cry Out.”
We hear those words in particular at the very end of the passage this morning, but a lot happens before we get there. And we’ll get there. But first, we need to talk about the colt and the cloaks the procession and the Pharisees. And I just want to invite us to take a step back and acknowledge how strange this all is.
We’ve been on a journey with Jesus up toward Jerusalem for the last few weeks. And when he finally gets close, he says to two of his disciples, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you’ll find a colt there that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here, and if anyone asks, just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
Which I’m like — can you just do that? Can you just take something that’s not yours and then when you’re questioned say, “The Lord needs it?” How would that go over?
And yet, that’s exactly what happens.
Jesus is set on the colt, and it’s on this colt that he rides into Jerusalem. This is part of the drama, and if you know, you know. If you know the prophecy from Zechariah in the Hebrew Bible about a triumphant and victorious king riding on a donkey, a colt, then you know that this act is more than just a random procession. It’s meant to bring to mind that prophecy and drive the point home (and circle it and highlight and underline it three times) that this Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the one long foretold — the one who will liberate the people from Roman occupation, who will restore Israel to greatness, who will set the captive free.
And the people who know do know. That’s why the reception in Jerusalem is as jubilant as it is. That’s why there’s a parade. Luke’s account of this story omits the palm branches waved as found in Matthew, Mark, and John — but the cloaks on the road offer a similar sentiment — one similar to the feeling on Franklin Street last weekend: It’s a sentiment not only of jubilation and ecstatic fervor, but one of praise.
Because the king has come. Victory is close at hand. A new day is dawning. And so their shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” are shouts of praise.
So let’s talk about this praise. On the act and idea of praise, theologian and Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written this, and I think it’s so good.
"In singing praise, all claims for the self are given up as the self is ceded over to God."
To cede over is to relinquish your rights, your power. It’s an act of humility and selflessness and self-awareness that says, “You are greater, and I am lesser.”
And we see this happening, don’t we? We see it in how they throw their cloaks before Jesus as he rides by. They lose themselves in their excitement and give themselves over to something bigger in their joy. In their expectation and relief. In their hope.
This is their praise. This is how they cede themselves over to God. With hope, they throw themselves into the possibility of this new day. They give themselves over to the promise of this king who will set the world right. Who will restore their fortunes. Who will bring to bear a new kingdom — a new dream — in their very midst… where the poor are lifted up, the marginalized find belonging, the captive are set free. Where everyone’s sacred worth is honored.
So bring on the celebration! This is parade-worthy good news. This is a reality worth giving ourselves over to — in the words of Brueggemann, giving up our self and ceding it over to God… in praise.
But when the crowd gets too raucous, when the parade is bumping, when the praise gets to be too much and too risky, what happens?
It makes people uncomfortable.
The Pharisees come to Jesus, and they say, “Hey, can you ask them to pipe down?”
There’s always a voice trying to silence our praise.
The Pharisees come to Jesus and they say, “Tell them to stop.”
There’s always a voice trying to silence our praise.
If Brueggemann is right and praise is to give ourselves over to God, to de-center ourselves and lose ourselves for the sake of God’s world, to get out of ourselves and place our attention, our focus, our hearts, and lives away from self-interest and toward God and God’s work, God’s healing, God’s justice in the world… if praise is about turning our selfishness into selflessness — if that’s what praise is, then the Pharisees here are the voices trying to silence it. Trying to stifle it. Working to snuff it out.
The Pharisees are like, “Hey man, can you shut them up? There are Roman spies everywhere. People are going to report this.”
In other words, it could be too costly. The negatives outweigh any positives.
There’s always a voice trying to silence our praise.
Maybe when you think of praise you think of speaking in tongues or hands in the air. Maybe you think of people dancing and being what some would consider uncivilized — doing things you wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
And yeah, that’s definitely praise. But I think it’s much too narrow of a definition.
I want to expand that definition of praise this morning and offer that praise happens any time we cede ourselves over to God. Anytime we lose ourselves in God and God’s work in the world. It doesn’t just have to look like hands in the air and shouting.
It can look like offering teacher appreciation kits like we did last week or putting together blessing bags for friends without homes like we’re going to do this Thursday night. In each of these instances, we’re giving ourselves over to a God who says, “I see you, and you are not forgotten.”
Or maybe for you, praise involves the work of justice and anti-racism. Maybe it’s holding a sign that says, “Black Lives Matter,” and joining a demonstration — another sort of parade. In these ways, you’re de-centering your individual story, becoming part of something greater, giving yourself over to God’s work of justice and equity and a future rooted in reconciliation.
Praise can be coffee with a friend — just to reconnect or to come alongside them, giving your time and energy over for the sake of another, for the sake of relationship — just as Jesus gave himself for the sake of the world.
Praise can be taking steps to care for creation, recognizing that God loves this world, and our futures are interconnected.
Praise can be a confession or an apology — giving yourself over to grace and finding freedom and liberation along the way, leaning into a new beginning.
Or maybe it looks like simply showing up here on a Sunday morning to be reoriented toward hope, healing and good news — giving ourselves over to a bigger story and centering our lives around God’s purposes in the world, full to the brim with abundant life.
That’s praise, too. I wonder what it might be for you. Anything that moves you to cede yourself over to God and God’s work in the world.
But even still, there’s always a voice trying to silence our praise.
And sometimes it’s our own voice. Maybe it’s the voice of your inner critic.
Or the lie from within that tells us we’re full of it. Nothing but a hypocrite.
Maybe it’s the voice that says, “You’re too much” or “It’s not worth the risk.”
Maybe it’s the voice that says, “I agree with your pursuit but not with your methods.”
Or the voice that says, “People are watching. Don’t embarrass yourself.”
Maybe it’s the voice that says, “You don’t have time.” or “What makes you think it will matter?”
There are countless other lies whispered in our ears. There’s always a voice trying to silence our praise.
But here’s the thing: Jesus knows this, too. Because when the Pharisees want Jesus to shut the crowd up, he responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
In this drama, this moment is one that foreshadows what will come next. Because we know, and Jesus does, too, that this crowd’s praise will fall silent by week’s end.
The cries of Hosanna will turn to “Crucify him!”
The shouts of adoration will return to mockery.
The selfless praise will turn back to selfish pride.
But Jesus knows that even if they fall silent — even when they fall silent — the rocks will still shout. The stone will still roll away. All of creation will still praise. That’s what he means by “…if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
In other words, what he’s saying is that this crowd didn’t begin — didn’t create — the praise. They merely joined in to what was already humming. Already brimming throughout creation.
Put another way, God’s justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. Love will win. God’s kingdom will come. God’s dream will be an abundant reality in all and through all. That’s the good news.
The even better news is that you can join in and sing — join the parade, the celebration, be filled to the brim with praise, give yourself over to this new reality with everything you have… or you can fall silent.
And if you join in, your life will never be the same. In fact, you’ll find the life that really is life.
So the question before us is simple as we turn toward the cross: What’s it going to be? Because there’s always a voice trying to silence our praise. Will you praise? Will you lose yourself? Will you cede yourself over to God? Will you join the stones and the rest of creation? Or will you fall silent?