Frederick Buechner, a favorite author of mine, has a Palm Sunday Sermon by the title, “The Things that Make for Peace.” In it, he has a very enigmatic comment: “The things that make for peace, that is what [Jesus] comes to give. We do not know these things, [Jesus] says, and God knows he’s right. The absence of peace within our own skins no less than within our nations testifies to that. But we know their names at least. We all of us know in our hearts the holy names of the things that make for peace – real peace – only for once let us honor them by not naming them.”
Wait a minute! What?!
I read the rest of the sermon feeling kind of stupid. I don’t know the things that make for peace! Tell me, please tell me! Maybe hidden in the notes at the end? Somewhere? What are the holy names of the things that make for peace? I searched my heart, and didn’t come up with an answer. It made me wonder if he was being coy or covering up his own lack of courage to say them out loud. Or is he more correct in his earlier statement that God knows we don’t know the things that make for peace. God help us! Send us searching!
We do not know the things that make for peace. We know a little about justice, but not much about peace. Think about a situation: Two roommates are fighting. One sees the other as not contributing his fair share of the costs. The other is so overwhelmed with working two jobs in an attempt to get out of a hole of debt, that it seems fair to him that his roommate, who earns more, should contribute more of the money for the household. So here is the problem. What would make for peace? Do you have a solution? I can think of several. But I am not sure that a solution to the problem would make for peace.
It is like the classic mis-communication between a husband and a wife. She comes home from work so frustrated and starts spouting off about her boss! The husband sees this as an opportunity to be helpful and steps in with some possible solutions. She just gets angrier! I don’t need your solutions. I just need you to listen – and maybe just put your arms around me and tell me I am not crazy, and that you love me.
I have a feeling that the things that make for peace are not the same as the things that make for justice. Or, at least the justice we define as having equal rights, and equal say, equal responsibility, and equal privilege, is not the way to peace. Peace is more intangible. Our Lady Justice is blind. What if Lady Justice was kneeling down and opening her arms to the very specific one she sees running to her care? What if Lady Justice knew the stories as intimately as those who stand before her? Would that make a difference? Would it make for peace?
It might make for peace, but it would not end suffering. Today’s story holds us as Christians in a quandary. We call today “Palm Sunday,” in honor of the “Triumphal Entry.” What a celebration! A parade for the greatest teacher of all time! The one who would lead the people into the era of peace, called the kingdom of God, when lion and lamb would lie down together and God would provide a feast for all people and death will be swallowed up forever!
This is an unimaginable hope! Don’t you think? How can we dare to hope that such a thing would ever come to pass? What bravery, brashness, even foolishness for these people to shout such things! Some in the crowd gave voice to this foolishness: Tell your disciples to keep quiet!
But Jesus would hear nothing of that! If these people became silent, the very stones would shout in their place. No! This is not a time for silence, but for shouting and celebrating. Time for a parade! Joy is in the air. Can’t you feel it? You are being ruled by your fear, Jesus seems to say. What if Pilate hears about this? Well, he will! You can count on it. Herod? Yup! The high priest? Just you wait. From here I go straight to the Temple. And the High Priest will definitely know I was there!
You think silence makes for peace? Well you have another think coming!
I am a lot like the Pharisees sometimes. I often think silence makes for peace. If I just keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, things will stay calm, copacetic. Go back to the roommate situation. If they would just stop talking to each other things would be fine, right? We all know better than that. Silence won’t make for peace. It will only build distrust, fear, suspicion. No, silence won’t make for peace.
So what does make for peace? Buechner didn’t say. And maybe he is following Jesus’ lead, because Jesus seems to know and he isn’t saying.
Let’s try a couple of ideas. Not final answers, but ideas which may get us somewhere.
What makes for peace? It seems kind of trite, like the perfect answer to every children’s sermon question – could it be love that makes for peace? Yes and no. I have been working with divorce – my own and thousands of others’ – for too long to give this a clear ‘yes.’ Love doesn’t keep people from yelling at each other, retreating in silence or running away. A lot of couples still love each other through divorce. They just can’t live together. Others have awakened to the reality that lust and love are not the same thing and now they realize that they never loved or were loved. For some, this reality dawns on them when they have a child. In the bond between parent and child is a kind of love they never knew existed, the kind they always yearned for. And what is it?
Belonging. You are mine. I am yours. Nothing will ever change this. We want to be loved as a mother or father loves a new child.
But does love make for peace? Perhaps not in the popular sense of love. What if we change the word ‘love’ to the word ‘belonging?’ I have begun to wonder if this term might be more like what the Bible means by love anyway. The Hebrews used the term, ‘covenant love’ for the specific love of God for God’s people. It is not really a feeling at all. It is a legal arrangement where the people of God belong to God and God belongs to them. And more than a legal arrangement, too. It is like parental love. We belong to each other. That cannot change. It just is.
I think part of the thing that makes for peace, which Jesus is hinting about is that this belonging to God is no longer restricted to just the good, law-abiders, or the people descended from Abraham. All creation belongs to God, including all the humans of creation. And when we belong, we are always welcome. Open arms greet us to enfold us, no matter what we have done.
This is not what Lady Justice says behind her blindfold. This is a God who looks at our faces, knows every particular thing about us, recognizes the look in our eye, and says “O yes, come here! I am particularly fond of you!” And it isn’t about doing the right thing, or cleaning up our act. It is simply being who we are. We are welcome into the embrace of the Holy One.
Back to the roommates. What would happen if this embrace was the act of peace? What if all justice and equality and fairness dropped to the floor and only an embrace was between them? In the circle of embrace, could they face their differences? In the delight in each other’s presence, would they feel safe to negotiate an agreement? Belonging changes everything, because it changes our perspective. It allows us to see the other as beloved, one who belongs, and to ask instead of ‘what do I need?,’ ‘what are the things that make for peace?’
The thing about belonging is that it doesn’t require stuff. There is no need to be perfect. Shame is allowed space to be acknowledged and banished.
This is not the position of power. This is not climbing a ladder, or standing up for one’s own self. Jesus doesn’t do this. He lets go of everything he is, even his connection to God in his words from the cross, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is willing to give up his very identity in order to include even the thieves hanging next to him. (Did you ever wonder what happened to the other thief? I think Jesus embraced him too. He didn’t ask. Perhaps he was too ashamed and angry. But belovedness has no boundaries. The other thief was beloved too. He just had not reached his moment of embrace yet.)
So, what else makes for peace? Letting go. There is no greater skill to develop in this life. Jesus did it. He let go of his expectations that the people would understand and work for peace. He broke down and wept as it broke his heart to let it go. But did he let go of love? I think not! My friend sitting at his wife’s bedside in the ICU said, “Tears are sacred. They come from hearts that have the courage to risk love.” Embrace doesn’t mean no tears. Belonging embraces sadness, when that is needed.
The things that make for peace? Love, belonging, letting go. Lady Justice will never make peace with her blindfold, sword and scales. Peace will only come through suffering embrace. Through the cross. Come to the cross this week on Friday. Join us as we acknowledge suffering and love. It is what makes the parade so joyful on Palm Sunday, and Easter, when we remember God’s crazy idea – to suffer, even death, to put death in its place.
Palm Sunday is the joy before the suffering. It is the joy we have to let go. Because God has a better joy waiting.
Grace & Peace,