No. Today is not Palm Sunday--it's not even Sunday. But last Sunday was Palm Sunday and that morning has been on my mind. We arrived at church late and the congregants were huddled outside the main entrance, holding and waving palm leaves.
"I'll park the car, just go on," John said as we rushed the children out of the car, trying to get to the service on time. We almost didn't go to church that morning....well, all hell was breaking loose at the house. Our youngest refuses (and by refuses I mean he throws a full-blown hissy) to wear 'church clothes' and left the house with khaki shorts and a collared shirt. Much to his mother's chagrin, our son wouldn't consider the darling 2 piece pale blue micro-check w/smocked bunny....not to mention locating shoes appropriate for the girls to wear to church. I digress.
As we walked up to the crowd, an usher handed us programs and bear-hugged our children. "I'm so glad to see you Emma Reed," he said. And he was. What you should know about this usher is that he is a long-time Sunday School teacher, elementary school teacher/coach and that my oldest daughter is almost as tall as him-he is not a large man-but his love and warmth toward our children that morning struck me. His committment to being at church and heartily, sincerely, welcoming St. Peter's youngest members meant more to me than he will ever know. And he was just being himself.
As the crowd pushed into the church I scanned the full pews, looking for a place for our family. We filed into the pew and took our seats, and the children immediately begin playing with their palm leaves. "Palm Sunday" the words appeared at the front of the church.
What was I thinking, not come? Who cares that he is too casual, we're here. I'm thinking to myself, as the congregation prepares to read through The Passion.
Different Parishioners have roles in the reading of The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if you don't know what that is you better get your ass to church....
As the Passion is read, our children are stripping their palm leaves which annoys me at first. They pipe up occassionally as different parts of the story are read, but remain focused on mutilating their palm leaf, which I decide is typical of children and I'm just happy they are in the pew with me. As we continue to read I find myself listening intently to the story, and I'm secretly wishing the ending would be different--just get down off that cross, I think. You can do it. I'm envisioning a new and different ending with fanfare and trumpets, and Jesus miraculously getting down off the cross. Something more akin to an episode of Bewitched, or a scene from the recent novel/movie, The Lightning Thief. Further, in my vision Jesus befriends the criminal who was in awe of him, and chides the criminal who chided him. And in my vision, Jesus is triumphant when he uses the miracles of strength and power to get himself down off the cross. I see Jesus standing holding a lighting bolt in his hand.
Well. Welcome to the "Church of Muffin." I have given you my preferred ending to the story we all know so well.
Rather, the Holy Scripture provides that our Lord and Saviour does not get down from the cross. God does not send a lighting bolt....or a band of angels to save Him. He dies a slow painful human death and the darkness comes. And Jesus wails and cries out to God....and there are those who chide Him in the final hour, and there are those who are in awe of Him in the final hour. The veil at the Temple is ripped from top to bottom and the centurion knows the prophesy has been fulfilled.
As I'm sitting in the pew contemplating my preferred vision versus the ending the Holy Scripture provides, my eyes fill with tears. I am overcome with emotion. Yes, I wonder if I need to get on something but I chalk it up to the Holy Spirit. Where is my emotion coming from? I ask myself. And as I quickly analyze I admit that my unexpected swell of emotion is not so much for Jesus (people he rises 3 days later) but for my appreciation to the friends who share the pews with me at St. Peter's, and other friends beyond the church walls. The bonds of friendship and the support of community that John and I value not only with our St. Peter's family but with other friends and family as well. And then, like a lightning bolt, I am struck by the fact that too often I am looking-waiting-searching for God's miracles to appear with majesty and fanfare and I miss the gentle, modest expessions of loving-kindness present in daily life. When the darkness comes, the miracles are not announced with trumpets and fanfare. The lightning bolts of reason and clarity are revealed at the most unexpected times and places. And the band of angels here to comfort and support do not have big gilded wings and sing "Gloria," but have loving arms that wrap around our children and quietly welcome them to church. The miracles of Faith come in mundane expressions of love, sympathy and understanding. Miracles come in the form of forgiveness and charity for others. Make no mistake, these miracles are Divine. Only, in the Church of God the Father, Jesus the Son & the Holy Spirit, the miracles are not accompanied with trumpets and fanfare but they come with the loving-kindness and warmth of a human heart.