On a silent and holy night some 2000 years ago, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds living in some fields who were keeping watch over their flocks. The angel proclaimed good news of great joy for all people by announcing the birth of a little one who would be found in a manger. Suddenly that angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
You may be wondering if I picked up the wrong sermon off the printer this morning on my way to church due to a lack of sleep, so hear again these words of the Lord read earlier today. “As Jesus was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’”
As Pastor William G. Carter puts it, “Luke’s Palm Sunday account echoes his Christmas story. When Jesus was born, the Gospel writer tells us that angels appeared to sing, ‘Peace on earth.’ Now, as Jesus rides his colt toward Jerusalem, the people look to the sky and sing, ‘Peace in heaven.’ …
As the church gathers this day, we are caught in the crossfire of blessings.”
Peace on earth and peace in heaven.
The religious elite of the day—the ones with titles like mine—don’t like it one bit. “Make them stop,” they say to Jesus. Even if he could, he tells them, “the earth itself would cry out.” If the people stopped, the rocks and stones would break forth into voice declaring that there be peace in heaven. And then, in the verses that immediately follow that we didn’t hear this morning, we read “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” The makings of peace eluded them.
If establishing peace both on earth and in heaven epitomizes Jesus’ life, then what makes for peace?
The obvious one would be the cessation of wars in our world, of course. You can search online and find a list of the current conflicts taking place. Last year major wars in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan resulted in 23,000, 25,000 and nearly 36,000 fatalities respectively. Perhaps what would make for peace is the end to partisan bickering and conflict in our country and working together to best meet the needs of those who live here providing for a brighter future. Maybe that peace for you would center on a family crisis or personal relationship and experiencing and deep and lasting healing.
One minister recalls getting into arguments with his father when he studied scripture in seminary. His father worked for a defense contractor, and the earnest seminarian felt he needed to proudly declare his desire for world peace to him. He writes, “After one of my rants, [my father] said, ‘I do not disagree with anything you have said, but we will never have peace on earth until we quiet the wars in our own hearts.”
This Sunday provides us with liturgical whiplash as we sing praises and our desire for peace in heaven, while also taking our part in joining the crowd asking for Jesus’ death. But it is not unlike the wars in our own hearts. The places where we feel vulnerable and long desperately for that peace. When we think how much our life is complicated by an aging parent or a rebellious teen or a self-serving boss. When we imagine the life we long for and how the current one we’re embodying day after day doesn’t measure up. When we see fear grip our hearts telling us that we will never be good enough. When we give in once more to the siren call of addiction.
Those wars in our own hearts—and others like them—show us how far we need to go to truly experience peace. How peace is hidden from our eyes.
And yet, if we watch a little longer, if we wait there by the tomb in which they laid him after he was crucified, perhaps we’ll catch a glimpse of that peace that can transform both heaven and earth. Maybe, just maybe, on that day when heaven and earth join together in their pronouncements of peace and blessing, the wars in our hearts will cease and we will fully discover our true home in the presence of the Prince of Peace. Who knows what a week can bring?