Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Preparing for Triumphal Entry Sunday--Are Palms Required?

Going to church as a child in the famously unchurched Pacific Northwest, some of the details of church life were lost on me.

In my small congregation growing up in the Seattle suburbs, we had this celebration with which you might be familiar; we gathered for the Sunday before Easter to observe Palm Sunday. We did some of the same things you may have done if you have ever attended a Palm Sunday service. We sang a hymn called "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" and processed into the sanctuary as a congregation.

Like many buildings in Western Washington, Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Renton is surrounded by evergreen trees. On chilly Palm Sunday mornings, we gathered in the church parking lot and picked up evergreen branches off of pavement and landscaped areas. If we hadn't had a recent wave of wind sweep through the area, branches might be pruned. These were our "palm branches" for the opening procession. As a 9-year old, I felt no dissonance between evergreen and palm. I'm not sure of the motivation behind using evergreens. Maybe it was environmental, practical, or cost effective.

The use of palms makes me think of the big picture concerning the cultural assumptions of our Christian practices. Is it necessary to replicate the culture of Bible times and lands in order to communicate Christ? The text read on Palm Sunday involves the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the sociology around human beings putting up people on a pedestal only to knock them down and sometimes kill them, only to regret and mourn their death. This tendency is not time bound. Look at presidential politics, Whitney Houston, and Jeremy Lin. Societies are always in the process of building someone up or knocking someone down (this thought is better expanded in the April 1, 2012 sermon).

Palms are great to use if you have them easily accessible in your neighborhood. Palms are great to use if you want to support fair-trade palm harvesters. I don't fault any congregation that wants to use palms ordered from a local florist if they can afford them. My point is to build up collective understanding and discernment of Christian faith practices. Why do we do the things that we do? How can we be more faithful in communicating our priorities? On Sunday, April 1, the people of St. John's, Lakewood, WA will process to mark Jesus' triumphal entry with evergreen branches. We are not doing it because we can save a little money, or because I am idealizing a childhood religious experience, but because it gives us an opportunity to reflect upon why we do the things that we do in the context of the story of Jesus' triumphal entry.

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