Monday, April 06, 2009

Palm Sunday at Our Place

Our church's Palm Sunday service has always, in my admittedly critical opinion, left a lot to be desired...bemused parishoners half-heartedly waving craft-paper palm leaves imprinted with a hymn and liturgy.

This year, our Worship Committee stepped it up a notch. During the opening hymn, our smallest kiddos, with minimal adult prompting, systematically laid a path of real palm fronds down the center aisle; two robed older children then served as crucifer and bearer of the Bible, solemnly processing down the path of palm leaves. Ironically, it brought to mind our pastor's wistful comment to Fellow Traveler and me a few weeks ago that he'd like to have more "grownup church"; and our kids get ritual much more than some of the adults, so perhaps it was appropriate that they set the tone for worship.

The sermon was on the mark as well. Our pastor talked about his experience as a child attending the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit every year to see Santa Claus; he contrasted that parade with the "parade" he experiences as a volunteer firefighter, when his colleagues converge from all corners of the area to help households in trouble, or the Prodigal-esque procession he's experienced as a father coming to meet a child who's gotten into a mess and needs rescuing. He challenged us to grow out of our "Here comes Santa Claus" understanding of the original Palm Sunday and instead enter into the participants' experience of hope and rescue from oppression that led to their hailing Jesus as a liberator. He also read past the Gospel lesson to Jesus' mournful judgment upon Jerusalem, and challenged us to be open to Christ's ongoing redeeming, transforming power, so that he wouldn't also be weeping over our own community.

We always do a bit of armchair quarterbacking of the service during the ride home; yesterday we agreed that we'd just experienced grownup church, and appreciated it a lot.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I've always had mixed feelings about Palm Sunday. We do the children's palm procession. And they give their palms to the others in the pews. We also have the whole passion story, because so many don't hear it during the week. But I just don't know if we should be emulating the crowds of that Sunday who were like political groupies in some ways. Or is the dramatic reading of the passion story an antidote to that? I'm still not sure after all these years.

LutheranChik said...

I was glad that we dumped the responsive "dramatic" readings -- the "Hosannas" and "Crucify hims," the planted actors in the congregation, etc. It's just so stagey, and as you note I'm not sure that that at all brings the story to life for anyone. (If anything I suspect it makes worshippers, particularly visitors, spend the morning thinking, "Please, God, don't let them assign me a 'job' in this service.")

Interestingly, at our meeting last night one of our committee members said she was so moved by the images and dignity of the processional, she started crying and couldn't stop.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

We've never had plants in the congregation, just people in the front reading the actual Bible passages, but with a narrator and parts. Quite some years ago, the local art teacher put together a slide show of famous paintings of Holy Week, etc. and they were shown at the same time as the reading. That was amazing.

I just wonder about the audio/visual/kinetic Palms/processional. Isn't that what most people will remember rather than the whole story?

Tom in Ontario said...

We gather in the church hall for the "liturgy of the palms" then process out the door, down the sidewalk, and into the sanctuary for the rest of the service.

We always read the Passion in parts, not planted in the congregation. The readers come forward and stand across the front of the church while I read the narrator part from the pulpit. As for the "congregation" responses in the Passion, we don't have the people in the pews read those. I ask the people up front who have parts to read those parts as a group.