(This is Neil.) What might Palm Sunday have to do with the environment? I would like to share part of a very good article from this week’s Tablet, written by Fr Paul McPartlan of the Catholic University of America (we earlier posted on Fr McPartlan on spiritual ecumenism here). When the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples for praising God and shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” Jesus responds, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Lk 19:40).
What does it mean to say that the stones will cry out? Why does it make sense to say, as Fr McPartlan writes, that the stones themselves are “thrilled at his arrival” and the very earth “responds to his presence”?
Fr McPartlan answers these questions and reminds us of the Eucharistic significance of all of this:
…First of all, the (Scriptures teach us to hope for “the new heavens and new earth”. That is what Jesus himself “promised” (2 Peter 3:13), but it is also what Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). The God who is recorded in the first book of the Bible as making all things “very good”, pronounces in the very last book: “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). What has unfolded in the vast drama in between has been not simply the salvation of humanity, but the salvation of Creation as a whole. The covenant that God made with Noah and his descendants after the Flood was explicitly made “and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Genesis 9:10). And the new and everlasting covenant was eventually sealed in the blood of Christ, who is “the image of the unseen God and the firstborn of all Creation”, in whom, through whom and for whom all things were created, the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). It is, and always was, a cosmic covenant, and God delights in his Creation in ways we will never fully fathom.
Secondly, nevertheless, humanity has a unique role to play in the covenant, and the idea of the “image of God” points the way to that role. The one and only true image of the unseen God is Jesus, as we just heard from Paul. But this is Jesus the new Adam, finally fulfilling the place and task that humanity was already given at the very outset. Adam and Eve were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and moreover were given dominion over Creation: “Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The fact that this verse, which is viewed so suspiciously by those who would blame the Judaeo-Christian tradition for fostering an exploitative attitude to Creation, immediately follows the “image of God” verse clearly shows that the dominion being conferred is meant to be a reflection of God’s own rule, and therefore the very opposite of destructive and uncaring. It is a kingship, humanity is God’s viceroy (cf. Psalm 8:5-6; “with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand”), and the Bible is ultra-clear about the criteria for good kingship under God. “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice.” In such a reign the earth will be fruitful: “may there be abundance of grain … may it wave on the tops of the mountains” (Psalm 72:1; 72:16).
Bad kings, like Ahab, not only led the people astray, they brought drought upon the land (1 Kings: 17). The link was already clear after the sin of Adam and Eve: “Accursed be the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). The Bible understands there to be a connectedness between all that God has made, with humanity in a decisive position, such that when humans sin it is not only they who suffer the consequences; the whole Creation suffers, or, as St Paul famously put it, the whole Creation groans. The connectedness is most apparent in his letter to the Romans, where he makes it plain that Creation itself retains the hope of being freed from slavery: “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) – so salvation is indeed cosmic – but also that what frustrates that hope is human sin. We can tell this from the fact that “For the Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (verse 19). It was the behaviour of wayward children that enslaved it, and only true children of God will give it freedom. Thus we understand the stones on Palm Sunday, all but breaking into their own song of freedom and joy as Jesus, the true Son of God, appears.
However, Creation’s true joy at his coming was most fully expressed a little later that week, at the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread and wine, and instead of simply breaking, distributing, eating and drinking, first of all lifted them up, giving thanks to God, as all the Last Supper accounts tell us. Adam and Eve, in the story that is emblematic of humanity’s defiance and disobedience, took and ate what God had forbidden. There was no shred of thanksgiving in their act. In complete contrast, the whole spirit of Jesus’ action is one of thanksgiving, Eucharist, and thanksgiving for Creation remains at the heart of the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist, though this fact is rarely if ever heeded. “In the eucharistic sacrifice, the whole of Creation loved by God is presented to the Father by means of the death and resurrection of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1359).