Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Palms and Flowers

Shortly after my parents got married (in 1954) they moved to 5711 Rockford Road (now County Road 9) in Robbinsdale.  When I was born, in 1956, mom and dad were already members of St. James Lutheran Church.

At the time my parents got involved the church was meeting and gathering for worship at an elementary school.  They soon got involved in a big way.  The church moved into their own building the next year and, as I remember well, there was much excitement when the big new building (pictured) was completed in 1964.  I was eight years old.

When I think about church and my growing up years, I have very positive feelings.  Church was often a fun place!  The building was full of people, full of life, and often full of joy.  Not always--but often--and I'm thankful for that.  I think there was honest joy there--the Joy of Jesus our Savior and Lord.

I was thinking about this because of the upcoming Holy Week observances that are being held where I live now, in Cokato.  Specifically, I was remembering that, about two weeks ago, at the "launch team" meeting at Crossroads, the question of palms came up. 

Having palm branches to wave on Palm Sunday (this year on April 17) is something that seems natural and normal for me--just as natural and normal as having lillies on Easter. 

I started wondering why it seems so normal.  I phoned my mom and asked whether we had palms on Palm Sunday when I was young.  She said she didn't know.  I know we did have palms to wave at some point in my childhood.  Maybe we started to have them at about the time we moved into the new building.

Notice I said it seems "natural" and "normal" to me that we have palm branches to wave on Palm Sunday.  But since when is it "natural" or "normal" to have an abundance of these things in April in Minnesota?  Why do I immediately think that way?  Where did we get the idea that we should pay to have palms branches shipped in from Central America?*

Obviously it's not necessary.**  I know my mom and dad didn't have them in their churches when they were children (back in the 1930s and 1940s.  Both of them grew up in northern Iowa--dad in Decorah, mom in Lake Mills); their parents brought them up as members of "Norwegian Lutheran" churches--churches that may have eschewed (avoided) things like that even if they would have been available--shipping extras like palm branches in from far away would have been either impossible or considered ostentatious and wasteful. They've both said worship, in their growing up years, was a pretty serious thing.

But, honestly, we religious people can get way too serious.  I think it's good to remember that as we enter Holy Week.  Yes, during Holy Week, Jesus suffered horribly.  As a way of remembering that we're planning to show the movie "The Passion of the Christ" on Good Friday evening (April 22). This is the week Jesus went to the cross. But, unlike the people in those days, we know the end of the story.  We know Jesus was purposefully suffering for us, to set us free from our sin.  And we know his death brought new life--for Him--and for us!  (That's why we have flowers on Easter, the day when we celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead!  Fresh flowers, including lilies, are beautiful and full of new life!)

I think it's good good just let loose, and if waving palms can help us do that, so much the better!  That's what happened on the original Palm Sunday after all!  (See Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; John 12:12-19.)  And children, who do not know how to be so careful of their emotions, they know how to celebrate!  I imagine it was the children or the young people who were the first ones to say "let's get some branches!"

How good to be a kid!  Maybe it's not just that there were palm branches when I was small.  Maybe it really is a Holy Spirit sort of thing.  Maybe, if we can't have palms, we should wave something else--streamers or flags or scarves!

Lifting our hands, waving palms or whatever we lift up--those acts let us celebrate like children--and children were an important part of the original Palm Sunday celebration.  God smiles on us when we celebrate.  The scriptures say God is "enthroned" on the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3).  He lives in those praises in a special way.  He "inhabits" them!  Wonderful!

So let's celebrate Palm Sunday!  And yes, let's go deep during Holy Week too--Thursday evening around the Lord's Supper, Friday at the Cross--and then, wonder of wonders, celebrate how God defeated death forever on Easter morning.

This joy can be yours!  Trust Jesus and His Word!  Come to him with all your pain and sorrow.  He holds the future.  He holds you.  And he will never give up on you.  He will always be there to receive you when you turn to Him.


* There is an environmental concern for how palm branches are harvested and shipped.  We do need to care about God's creation and how we use and protect the gifts he has given us.  I believe the command of God recorded in Genesis about exercising "dominion" over the earth means we are responsible for it.  See a post I wrote in 2008 on Christians and Climate for more about this.

** Like having ashes on Ash Wednesday or lillies on Easter, it's obviously not necessary.  We can celebrate the events leading up to Jesus' marvelous saving work without waving palm branches or anything else.  I caution those, however, who say that the spiritual life is disconnected from the physical. They have the same creator and God is involved in both.

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