This week our guest blogger is The Rev. Elizabeth M. Magill. Liz is the Pastor of Worcester Fellowship, an affiliate of Ecclesia Ministries. She graduated Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA in 2002 and coordinates the EDSConnect, their distance learning program.
When I grew up, Palm Sunday was just about Palms. Probably Jesus, too, and a donkey, but in my memory, it was just about Palms. Today Palm Sunday has grown into something more–we start with the Palms, but then proceed into the passion. For those who attend the Holy Week services and spend time in Holy Week reflection, Palm Sunday provides a preview, or an overview, of the week to come. For many, it is their primary connection to Jesus last days living among us.
But the thing that matters most about Palm Sunday for is that it doesn’t have any baggage.
I serve an outdoor church in Worcester, Massachusetts. We are reaching out to homeless and at-risk adults. We provide pastoral care, a listening ear, lunch and worship on Sunday afternoons. The rhythms of the church year are important to our ministry, providing a framework for people to connect their very real, and often very hard, lives to the life of a Jesus who they understand had a very hard life himself. We celebrate Christmas by acknowledging the times their families may not have had money to buy gifts. We celebrate Easter recognizing that some years their family dinner turned into a family fight. We honor Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by naming the way that sometimes Mothers and Fathers have not come through with the love that God has promised us. We name the fact that Thanksgiving is often a holiday when childhood memories include excessive alcohol, drugs, and violence.
But Palm Sunday doesn’t have any baggage. It’s an un-burdened holiday.
And the story that is told! What a glorious story.
This year St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Grafton, MA provided palms along with lunch. They brought cheeseburgers! A hot lunch is an unusual delight on the streets. People made crosses with Palms while we cleaned up lunch and set up the altar. And then worship began.
We sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” and paraded through the park that is our sanctuary, up around the fountain, and back to our folding table altar. And then a team of six readers took on the story of the passion, five from our congregation, and one of the youth visiting from Yarmouth, Maine.
We put the prayers of the people into the middle of the story, right after Peter denied Jesus, and the prayers showed the heartfelt way we recognize that we deny his life by failing to change our own lives every day. And then we heard the rest of that great passion story, continuing through the hard stuff of betrayal, being found guilty, and death. A cliff-hanger ending, but we all know the good news we’ll hear next week.
At the Peace several were emboldened by our marching around, and they marched over to the other side of the park offering peace signs and hand-shakes to the confused members of Occupy Worcester, which meets in the same park. And then we shared Eucharist, moved deeply by the gift of forgiveness and the healing of our brokenness that came on that night before he died.
We carried the extra palms with us to the homeless shelter up the street, and to our Bible study at the local hospital’s atrium. Some people looked startled by the offer of Palms, but many were thrilled.
I love the “Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday”. It’s a holiday without any baggage, and because of those missing weights from the past we can be fully present today. Hosanna!
To learn more about Pastor Liz and the Worcester Fellowship read her blog about outdoor church at www.outdoorchurch.livejournal.com or friend Wordester Fellowship on Facebook.