With just a phrase, St. Luke carries us back to that night over the plains of Bethlehem. Shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch o’er their folks by night. And then there was the angel. Then a multitude of the heavenly host, glorifying and praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”
And now it is Jerusalem. Teeming, tumultuous, broad-daylight, Jerusalem. Then there was Jesus. And then the multitude of the human host, glorifying and praising God, shouted, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
The angels sing “Peace on earth” at the beginning. Now we have reached the end and the people of earth shout, “Peace in heaven!” For St. Luke, this is no coincidence. Peace! Peace on earth as it is in heaven…because Jesus has arrived.
Oh, but how different is the end from the beginning! At Christmas the shepherds made known abroad the things that were told them. And Mary…Mary pondered all these things in her heart. And there was great joy! But here at the end, Jesus weeps.
In the verses immediately following our text, St. Luke writes, “When He drew near and saw the city, He wept…‘Would that you had known on this day the things that made for peace!’” Yes, there’s a lot of shouting about peace. There’s a lot of joy! But they really had nothing to tell abroad…nothing to ponder in their heart. And Jesus wept.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But they didn’t. With a foreign power making its presence known everywhere—in government, commerce, the legal system, even religion—with that foreign power having its hand tightly wrapped around Jerusalem’s throat, there was not much peace.
Oh, there were the zealots, hyper-patriotic Jews causing trouble, civil disobedience, terrorism, insurrection, murder. They were a thorn in the side of the Romans, and they made life difficult for law-abiding Jews.
And, yes, there were the collaborators, the Quislings—Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and all the other toadies of Rome. Go along to get along. Growing fat under Roman indulgence, and yet always ready to stick it to Rome if they got the chance. The Pax Romana may have descended on the Mediterranean world, but deep down where it really counted, peace was still only a word…a very elusive word.
And Jesus wept. Wept, not only because Jerusalem was a city ready to rush lemming-like to its destruction. Wept, not only because of His great love for a people bent on their own destruction. Wept, not only because peace eluded them. Jesus wept, because His presence makes for peace. And yet, the cheering, branch waving, shouting people of Jerusalem just could not see it…see Him.
Crush Rome. That’s the way of peace. Why, if Jesus could raise the dead, certainly He must be able to take down the living! Crush Rome. If Jesus gave release to the demon possessed, He certainly must be able to bind these demonic Gentiles. Crush Rome. If Jesus forgave and lifted up the outcasts, He certainly must be able to bring down the high and mighty and cast them out of Jerusalem, out of Judea, out of the world! Crush Rome. Power to the people. Then there will be peace. Peace in our time.
So they cheered. They waved their patriotic palm branch flags. They shouted their cries filled with the glory of King David’s years. Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest. They shouted. And Jesus wept.
If you only knew. Peace is not Pax Romana. It is not Camelot. Peace is not a New Deal nor a Thousand Year Reich nor a Great Society nor Morning in America nor Change We can Believe In nor any slogan cranked out by the machinery of politicians. Peace is not a balance of power nor an absence of war nor the elimination of prejudice. These are but the many human attempts at creating peace.
All you have to do is ask the conquered about the cost of the Peace of Rome. Ask Woodrow Wilson about the cost of keeping us out of war. Ask Neville Chamberlain about the cost of peace in our time. Ask the poor, the red and yellow, black and white, the men, women, and children, ask those for whom peace has been imposed by force about the cost of peace.
But why ask them? Ask yourself. How much denial does it cost to keep peace? How much pretending? How much going along with the crowd? How much silence? How much…how much does it cost to be at peace, to keep peace? And what does it feel like to be running with lemmings? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem.
Peace escaped Jerusalem because they did not recognize God’s coming among them. Peace eludes us when we do not recognize God’s coming among us. Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Jesus is our peace. And Jesus’ peace is a vastly different sort of peace that the world’s lemming-like peace-making.
Jesus’ peace begins again today, Palm Sunday; this week of peace, this week when Jesus “peaces” us together. It began on Christmas because Jesus comes among us. Today it takes a giant leap toward fulfillment.
But Jerusalem couldn’t see it, couldn’t see Him as their peace. They could only see what they wanted to see. And how often is our Christian faith only what we want it to be? Peace breaks out when we see Jesus…not us and our own faith, but Jesus with us. There is peace because He is with us. We fix our eyes on Him, where He is, where He promises to be.
Here…where the two or three or two hundred are drawn together in His name. He is here. Peace breaks out when we see that Jesus, really and personally, is here. If all we see here is a building and some people, then there is no peace for us. Peace begins in seeing that Jesus is here with us.
Then we have the three little prayer services on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Not to learn something new about Holy Week, but to listen again to what Jesus is doing for us; to listen in the quiet of these little services, and in the listening, to see what makes for our peace.
Then comes Maundy Thursday, and the peace grows because Jesus is there, giving Himself into our hands and onto our tongues. This is My Body; this is My Blood…for you. Do we see Him? Not just the bread and the wine, but do we see Jesus Himself? Do we see the One who is both Host and Meal? Do we hear His voice in the words, “Go in peace”? Or do we see merely an extra service? Only some religious folderol? Do we not recognize that God is coming to us in this Sacrament, and giving us His peace?
Then…Good Friday…a day of peace. Jerusalem didn’t see it. “Better that one man should die than all the people perish,” said the voice of political expediency. Yet how right he was…although Caiaphas couldn’t see it. All they could see was death.
And what do we see on Good Friday? Yet another extra church service?! A service to commemorate the death of a good man? Are the words “rest in peace” merely words for death?
Or do we, in fact, gather on Good Friday in peace for peace, not for sadness. Oh yes Jesus paid a great cost for our peace. It is a terrible cost. And, yes, we are the reason it cost so much. BUT…on Good Friday we see peace restored. We hear the words of peace: “Father, forgive; Father, into Your hands.” We breath His Spirit of peace in the darkness and in the silence of that Good day.
Then…Easter. Yes, finally, Easter. Peace celebrated. Peace overflowing in our cup of blessing. Peace sung and praised, peace shouted and raised. Jesus lives the victory’s won! Won for us. Peace for us! Only in Jesus. The crucified Jesus; the risen Jesus. Jesus dead and, behold, He lives. Seeing in Him that we ourselves are crucified and raised, dead and, yet behold, we live…forever. Peace!
Jerusalem couldn’t see it, didn’t see it, despite all their cheering and shouting. They couldn’t see what made for peace. And Jesus wept. Peace still eludes human eyes today, though we certainly do a lot of shouting about it. And who can but weep?!
Now…Holy Week begins once again. And will this Holy Week be for us a week which makes for peace? We shall have to see.