"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road" (Matthew 21:8).
Celebrating Palm Sunday at home is very different than worshipping at other online worship services. I suspect it is because Palm Sunday has been a uniquely tactile and kinetic worship experience for me. I can recall the smooth feel of the fronds when I rubbed them with the grain and the prickly, splintery sensation when rubbed against the grain. I remember passing the palms to the congregants and receiving the same when I occupied the pew. I was always amazed at how flexible they were; how I could fold them in half or in thirds without breaking them, how others would weave them into crosses after service. Once everyone was in possession their palms and been playfully warned not to knock off any hats, wigs, or eyeglasses, we would wave them while singing, "Palms of victory, palms of glory, palms of victory, I shall wave."
This Palm Sunday, there was
(at least not in the traditional sense)
And there were no palms.
A few days before Palm Sunday, I was lying silently in bed before rising to start my day. As I lay there reflecting on the impending Holy Day, I heard my spirit say,
"I am the palm."
Then it became clear.
I want to be smooth in the Master's hand. I wanted to go in the direction the Lord wanted to send me without being irritating, prickly, or like a splinter that pierces the hand because its direction is set regardless of who is holding it.
I want to be able to bend without breaking. In times like these, we are are all adjusting to quarantined life. We have to be flexible, creative. I do not want to be so rigid that I cannot change, especially while living in an unprecedented season. I do not want to be so stuck to how it has always been and how I have always been that change breaks me. Like the palms woven into crosses, I want to be flexible enough to be woven into whatever glorifies God. I want to accept that things are not as I expected and surely, not what I wanted.
This time last year, I was in the midst of medical diagnoses. I was planning 4 surgeries, child care, summer camp registrations, meal schedules, cancelling engagements, and scheduling visits from family and friends to help us through my convalescence. I was battling my own fears and confronting my mortality. I was grieving the loss of body parts. I was looking forward to this time this year, when it would all be behind me, and I had some time to adjust to my new normal. I was supposed to be back on my feet, working the plans I thought God gave me. I was supposed to be teaching and preaching and connecting with people I had not had a chance to see this past year.
Instead, I (we) are in the middle of a pandemic. I have to bend to this new normal. I am trying to accept that this is what it is, at least for the time being. I am not wallowing in the disappointment, frustration, and grief that the changes have caused, but I am allowing myself to feel what I feel. However, I refuse to allow what I feel to block the possibilities of what this season may teach, show, and give. I am determined that COVID-19 cannot have it all.
I want to be an instrument whose being moves in praise to God. I want to be waved like a palm for the glory of God without harming others. I want a heart that is as concerned for others. I want to be careful of those around me. Right now, that is my immediate family. And if the truth were told, they are often the ones who get the worst of me. They are here for all the bad days when I cannot maintain the public smiles and strength. They are here dealing with the introvert who no longer has the house (or a particular room or BATHROOM) to her herself uninterrupted until the 3:45 bus pick-up.
I want this time I share with them to be a praise to Almighty God. However, I must admit that I am angry that I cannot do what I enjoy when I want. I am angry that I feel pulled in so many different directions without ever leaving home. And I am angry that I too often forget that I am sharing a home with the people I love most in the world, in a house that I love, with so many creature comforts that I am ashamed of the words I have just typed.
Lord, help me to bend and not break. Help me to bend until my knees hit the floor. Lord, make of me a palm like the ones placed at your feet.
Help me to humble myself, no longer rising to the level of your hand. I want to come to YOU, not just for what you are giving out. I repent of approaching You face to face, like we are equals and You need to explain Your ways to my satisfaction. I want to be the palm that I did not get to wave or place your feet.
I want to live like I know Jesus no matter how dark it gets. The Palm Sunday accounts of scripture are examples of literary irony. The people's words and actions belie the truth of who Jesus is. Yet, they still do not truly understand. Come Friday, they will yell, "Crucify him!" I want to learn their lesson so that I am not found faithless when things do not turn out as I expected. I do not want to be swayed by the crowd because the Lord has not done as I wished. I want to make it through my own Maundy Thursday without betraying him. I want to live through Good Friday without mocking him. I want to be found patiently waiting through silent Saturdays. And on Sunday, I do not want to be surprised by a resurrection he already foretold.
I want to be the palm.
Because palms are a beacon of hope. You see, one day there will be a crowd that no one can number composed of people from every nation, tribe, and language. According to Revelation 7:10, they will gather around the throne of God and praise God saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
They will be robed in white
and in their hands,
will be palms.