Friday, April 11, 2014

Triumphal Palms

Skinny dry blades from palm fronds.

Try saying that five times fast!

When I was a kid, skinny, dry palm tree blades stripped from palm fronds were what Palm Sunday was about.  They're almost all I remember from Holy Week as a child.  The churches we attended would buy boxes of thin, surprisingly sharp segments of real palm fronds, with each segment being about three feet long, and tapered from about an inch wide at their base to a narrow point.  We children would finish Sunday School early to line up in the church foyer, receive one of these skinny, dry blades, and then parade down the center aisle of the sanctuary, waving our one little blade as high in the air as we could reach.

And we were probably coached to yell "Hosanna!" while doing so.

It was the triumphal entry on a small-church, low-budget scale.  And while adults kept telling us we were waving palm branches, those skinny blades didn't look anything like the palm branches I saw in books, or even on television.  But then again, I remember figuring, even as a child:  we were living in upstate New York.  What would I know about palm branches?  It wasn't until years later that I figured out that on some tropical island somewhere, there were people stripping apart all of their beautiful, native palm fronds so they were easier and cheaper to box and ship back to the mainland.

Imagine my surprise when, several years ago, at the large and wealthy church I attend in Dallas, children from the Sunday School department came down our beautiful sanctuary's aisles with those same skinny, dry blades from palm fronds!  Oh my goodness, I thought:  they couldn't get the real thing?  How many people in this affluent congregation have lush tropical palms gracing their grand homes, potted in imported Italian urns, or planted poolside in their sunny backyards?  These kids must be wondering, like I did, what in the world they were waving around!

For folks who are not too serious about church stuff, Palm Sunday is the stepdaughter to Easter, and only worth the bother of going to church if your kids have been recruited by their Sunday School teacher to carry something resembling a palm branch around the sanctuary.  Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end for Christ.  Hardly a fun thing to commemorate, even if you don't take religion seriously.

Yet for those of us who take faith in Christ a bit more honestly, Palm Sunday isn't a stepdaughter to Easter.  In fact, it's not the beginning of the end, either.  It's the end of the beginning.

All up until this point in His Earthly ministry, Christ has been demonstrating the holiness of His father, establishing His authority as God's Son, and proving to mankind that we need a Savior.  Now came the time for Christ to fulfill His penultimate purpose.  His death, burial, and resurrection would forever seal the bond between the Father and His children.  Christ would be the perfect, only, and eternal sacrifice for our sins, launching a new reality for the world in which ritualistic sacrifices of the Old Testament law would be fulfilled, and thereafter replaced by holy grace.

Isaiah prophesies as much when God says, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

The Apostle Paul explains that new beginnings occur even to this day - our day, today - whenever Christ becomes the Lord of somebody's life.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

And it's not as though Christ saves His people and then leaves us to figure things out from there.  The Apostle Paul writes that God will be faithful to complete the good work He starts in those of us who believe on His Son.  In a way, Palm Sunday's triumphal entry was Christ's way of saying, "enough with the preliminaries; let's get this show on the road."

Indeed, from a palm-strewn roadway, to nails in His palms.

For us.

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