Don’t let the rocks cry out

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week of his death—a day that the church commemorates each year as Palm Sunday—he entered to a throng of people shouting “Hosanna!” (“Hooray for salvation!”) and carpeting his path with their cloaks and with palm branches. The Pharisees, still not seeing Jesus for who he was, told him to rebuke the crowds for their blasphemy. To give high praise to anyone other than God, they insisted, is a grievous sin. That’s true enough, but the disciples’ praises were not misplaced. Jesus defends their hosannas and their postures of worship, retorting that “if these [my disciples] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). This is one of several times throughout his ministry in which he equates himself with God.

Even the Stones Will Cry Out
Roberta Karstetter (American, 1953–), Even the Stones Will Cry Out, 2010. Assemblage.

The Westbound Rangers, a bluegrass band from Nashville, has a song inspired by this episode: “Rocks Cry Out,” from their 2013 album Gone for Way Too Long. It was written by Graham Sherrill, an old high school friend of mine, who also does vocals and banjo for it. Fellow bandmates—Mike Walker on mandolin, Read Davis on guitar, and Wes Burkhart on bass—helped write the instrumental bridge. I’ve embedded the song here with the band’s permission.  

 

When the Lord was comin’ down the road
They praised him with a shout
And if we don’t up and raise our voice
The rocks will all cry out
Don’t let them rocks cry out

When I lay down my gospel plow
And I reach the other shore
You can bury my bones in a wooden box
I don’t need them bones no more
Lord, I don’t need them no more

When the Lord descends with a mighty shout
And I hear that trumpet ring
I’m gonna join him there forevermore
O death, where is your sting?
O tell me, where’s your sting?

When the lion lays down with the lamb
And the wolf down with the sheep
We’ll know the fullness of the Lord
As waters cover the sea
As waters cover the sea

When the Lord was comin’ down the road
They praised him with a shout
And if we don’t up and raise our voice
The rocks will all cry out
Don’t let them rocks cry out
(×2)

The Triumphal Entry—and especially Jesus’s disgracing of the Pharisees—serves as the song’s framing device and as an admonition: let us lift high the name of Christ, for if we neglect to do so, the rocks at our feet will grow mouths and shout his praises in our stead. This declaration may very well have been a figure of speech, not meant to be taken literally, but I am intrigued by the literal reading. (It appears assemblage artist Roberta Karstetter was as well!) Humanity’s ability to offer conscious praise to God, and to reciprocate his love, is one of the things that set us apart from the rest of creation, but if we fail, God can easily pass on that privilege to the mineral world.

The middle three verses of “Rocks Cry Out” draw on biblical imagery of death and resurrection:

  • Crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land (“the other shore”)
  • Christ’s second coming, as described by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:51–56)
  • The Peaceable Kingdom, as prophesied by Isaiah (11:6–9)

“Rocks Cry Out” is a feast of hope-filled scripture that testifies to the glory of Jesus Christ the King so that the rocks don’t have to.


After three albums, The Westbound Rangers are now in semiretirement, performing just a few gigs a year. To follow Graham’s latest musical pursuits, check out The Hogslop String Band.

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