Palm trees don’t grow in this part of the world.
This profound thought came to mind this morning as I was preparing to go to church for Palm Sunday. In past years we were supplied with palm fronds from some distant place when we entered the building in preparation for the annual Palm Sunday praise march. The march is the yearly event when most of our decently-and-in-order introverted type congregation shuffles out of the pews and follows the children in a sort of reverse Pied Piper conga line for the rhythmically impaired out the emergency exit, once around the parking lot, back in the hall doors, through the nursery, past the washrooms, to return to the sanctuary. By this time the straggling solitary voices singing choruses are usually not only out of breath and out of sync with the organ, but are probably not even singing the same song.
Still and all it’s quite exciting, bandying our fronds about and coming perilously close to dancing in the aisles. For those of you who worship by waving colourful giant silk flags and unself-consciously dancing unshod in the aisles, please understand that for people in whose culture shifting weight from one foot to another is considered frenetic activity the praise march is pushing the boundaries of decorum. Sometimes it prompts quiet mutterings about reverence –but it’s part of the children’s story time, so all is well.
But budget restrictions, you know. We’ve not been able to afford to have the palm branches flown in since our resident florist went out of business and we can’t get them wholesale. Last year we substituted hand-made flags (small enough to tape to drinking straws -we’re not about to go overboard) and plastic miniature greenery found in a box of stage props from Christmases past. A while back someone donated a bag of cheerleader pompoms. The little girls and young moms get those.
So this morning I was thinking about the tradition of waving palm branches in a country where palms do not grow. It dawned on me that Jerusalem is not exactly a lush jungle either. Cutting down branches may have been a sacrifice of prized landscaping ornamentation for them. Throwing down coats in the path of the Master on the donkey would probably have been more of a sacrifice for them than for us as well. It’s unlikely the common people in those days needed to include his’n’hers walk-in-closets in their home design plans. Jesus talked about giving a cloak away if a person had two. Two? Our mud room alone has an avalanche of three seasons worth of jackets, sweaters and parkas sliding off the hooks onto the floor.
I posted a photo I took yesterday of raindrops on a cedar branch. They reminded me of little jewels. The cedar bush, which I’ve been trying to coax into some sort of shape for years, is the only green thing in the garden right now -except for the tip of some crocus leaves and a bit of incorrigible crab grass by the foundation wall. I felt like the Lord was saying to me, “It’s easy to sacrifice palm branches from some far-away third world country. If you want to do this, get your own branch, from you own yard.”
So I did. I cut out a branch from the center of the shrub I photographed yesterday –the same branch as a matter of fact– as my sacrifice of praise. And I waved it all through the parking lot, the meeting hall, the nursery, the hallway and the sanctuary, because the King is coming.
It was a good morning.