Pastor’s Approach: Weddings

I’ve been writing monthly articles in my church newsletter about my approach to various aspects of congregational ministry – worship, sacraments, weddings, funerals, and so forth. A few months ago I wrote about weddings, but hadn’t yet posted the article online. To see other articles in this Pastor’s Approach series, click on the Church Newsletter category link.

Marriage is Both Legal and Religious
Marriage is a legal union regulated by the government upon which people of faith have historically asked God’s blessings. The United States is somewhat unique in its practice of allowing clergy to preside at legal wedding ceremonies. In much of the world, including the historically Christian nations of Europe and Latin America, couples first go to a judge to be legally married. Then, if the couple desires the church’s blessing on their marriage, they come to the church at a later date for their church wedding. In fact, in his writings on the wedding service, Martin Luther describes a couple getting married on the step to the church’s front door. Only after making their legal vows to one another does the couple step into the church to seek the blessings of God and the Christian community on their marriage.

Couples are welcome to have the entire wedding ceremony – which includes both the legal marriage and the declaration of God’s blessings – performed at the church. Alternatively, couples are welcome to be married by a judge and then come to the church to ask God’s blessings upon their marriage. I’ve presided at both kinds of weddings, and each are perfectly legitimate.

The Church Wedding Service
The church wedding service is a Christian worship service celebrating God’s love for and commitment to the couple and the world, and the love and commitment God has given them for each other. While many options are available to the couple to make the service rich with meaningful symbols and experiences, a few essentials mark a wedding as a Christian wedding:

  • Gathering in the name of God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
  • One or more readings from the Bible;
  • A sermon proclaiming God’s love and grace;
  • Vows the couple makes to each other;
  • Blessing of the couple;
  • Benediction (ie, words of blessing at the end of the service).

The wedding service can be a full, robust church service, too – complete with liturgical music, hymns, prayers of intercession, holy communion, and so forth. This is what Jessicah and I did at our wedding … which lasted about 90 minutes and was a festive time of prayer and worship.

Many other elements may be part of the wedding service in a variety of ways – how the couple enters and leaves the church (Jessicah and I walked in together); the use of other symbols or rituals of marriage (such as the giving of rings; the lighting of a unity candle); the selection and use of music; the reading of non-Biblical texts (such as poetry); the type of clothing or flowers that are used; the role of parents, children, and other family member; the “first kiss,” and so forth. I work with couples to develop a meaningful service that gives praise to God and gives expression to the couple’s love for and commitment to one another.

Wedding Policy
I am currently working with the Worship & Music Committee to revise our congregation’s wedding policy. Please contact the church office if you would like to learn more about weddings at Grace. As with all special church occasions, dates for weddings need to be coordinated with the church to assure the availability of the church space, and of the pastor.

Pastor’s Approach: Funerals

I’ve been writing monthly newsletter articles about my approach to various aspects of congregational ministry – worship, sacraments, weddings, funerals, and so forth. A few months ago I wrote about funerals, but hadn’t yet posted the article online. To see other articles in this Pastor’s Approach series, click on the Church Newsletter category tab.

When someone dies, loved ones – family and friends, neighbors and church members – need space to grieve, to remember the deceased, and to give thanks to God for their loved one’s life. A church funeral service is an important part of the grieving process that may also include a visitation at a funeral home, family’s home, or at church; a reception where friends and family gather to tell stories through laughter and tears; a public act of memorial, such as planting a tree or donating a park bench in memory of the deceased; and any one of many other possible acts of grieving and remembering the deceased.

The Funeral Service
The Christian funeral service is a chance to come together to hear God’s promises for the deceased and to take comfort that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” not even death (see Romans 8:38-39). In the Christian funeral service we remember the baptism of the deceased by draping the remains of the deceased in white, the color of baptism and resurrection, and splashing the casket or urn with baptismal water. We hear from Holy Scripture words of God’s comfort and promise – comfort for those who grieve, and promise that the deceased is in God’s everlasting care. We sing such promises in hymns and/or hear them sung in a solo music.

Holy Communion is celebrated, as we believe this sacred meal to be a mystical gathering of God’s people – from the past, present, and future – around our Lord’s table of grace, mercy, and life. The deceased, and all those who have gone before us in faith, are truly in communion with us as we share in this sacred meal. Only in cases where significant portions of the funeral gathering would not receive – ie, if a large portion of the family is not Christian or cannot receive Holy Communion in a Lutheran Church because of the teachings of their faith – would we consider not celebrating the sacrament.

At funeral services we give thanks to God for the deceased and commend the deceased’s remains to God’s care. One or two remembrances (eulogies) are shared in the service, about 3-5 minutes each. If additional people would like to speak about the deceased, the reception is a very appropriate time to do this. In the sermon I strive to weave stories of the deceased into the story of God’s saving and gracious work in the world, and so in this way to tell the story of God by, with, and through the story of the deceased. A prayer near the end of the service, said with a gesture blessing the deceased’s remains, asks God to gracious receive the deceased into everlasting care.

Funeral Service, or Memorial Service?
A funeral service is one at which the remains of the deceased are present, and is often held within four to eight days of death. A memorial service is very similar to a funeral service, though the remains of the deceased are not present. Though there is no religious teaching in our faith that requires funerals to be held within a certain timeframe (as our Jewish sisters and brothers traditionally have the funeral within a day or two of death), funerals taking place within a week of death give family and friends a meaningful and timely opportunity for grief, prayer, and mutual comfort. Memorial services are held at a later date, when funeral services are not being held closer to the date of death, or when the funeral is held in one location and a memorial service is desired in a different location.

Services need to be scheduled with the church. Though the church and the pastors have schedules that are generally flexible, there will be times when other church events, pastors’ vacation time, or other extraordinary circumstances would prevent the church or pastors from being available at particular dates and times. In these rare circumstances, we should work to find another date for the service, or seek out another location and/or another clergyperson for the service.

Full Body Burial, or Cremation?
The Lutheran church teaches that cremation is a perfectly appropriate way to care for the deceased’s remains. Remains are appropriately buried at sea or in the earth, giving a dignified final resting spot to the deceased. Burial of remains – cremated or not – often takes place immediately following the funeral service, but may also take place at a later date.

Make Some Plans
I encourage everyone to consider making preparations for their death – medical plans, financial plans, legal plans, and yes, funeral plans. If there are hymns or readings that are your favorite, or that you believe would give comfort to your family members upon your death, write those ideas down. Come and meet with me to talk about your funeral, or that of a loved one. I work with surviving family members to make appropriate selections of Scripture and hymns for a funeral, whether or not the deceased has given us any indication of their preferences for a service. Nonetheless, your notes – given to the church office, or left at home in an accessible place – will bring comfort to your family and help us honor you in an appropriate way upon your death.

Looking ahead: At some time in the fall, I will offer a workshop on funeral planning.

Pastor’s Approach: Praising God, Honoring Country

I’ve been writing monthly newsletter articles about my approach to various aspects of congregational ministry – worship, sacraments, weddings, funerals, and so forth. This month, I wrote about the intersection of patriotism and Christian worship. It is a variant on pieces I’ve written on this blog in the past. Below is what appeared in my congregation’s July newsletter.

The 4th of July is a wonderful holiday, celebrating our nation’s independence and calling all who live in this land to reflect on the freedoms we are privileged to enjoy in this land. There will be flags waving outside of houses – including my house – and parades with red, white, and blue processions, and store aisles filled with patriotic products. Yet at church we don’t make patriotic celebrations a centerpiece of our worship or fellowship. This is intentional.

When Christians gather for worship on Sunday mornings, we gather around the Risen Christ, the Living Word of God. Worship is a time to give praise to the God of our ancestors for the grace and mercy He has shown to us, most clearly through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymns and songs are part of the proclamation of the Word of God. Hymns allow us to simultaneously proclaim and hear God’s Word through the gift of music. Yet if a hymn’s theme is secular, and cannot be reasonably understood as giving praise to God, it is not appropriate for Christian Worship.

Our worship services include – and our tradition demands – that we pray for our government and nation, and especially for those in positions of leadership. This we do every Sunday, and on occasions of national holidays those prayers are carefully crafted.

And at times the church even hosts special times of prayer and worship on occasions of national significance. But even when we gather to pray for our country, the prayer and liturgy remain Christian in character, and are not patriotic ceremonies. In these gatherings national concerns guide the selection of readings, hymns, and prayers, but such worship services remain Christian worship services in which the faithful gather around God’s Word.

Outside of those times that are set aside for worship, Christians are called to active engagement in the civic life of our country and our community. Christians should enthusiastically and patriotically attend civic celebrations, memorials and ceremonies. Though waving the flag and saying the Pledge of Allegiance is not appropriate for Christian worship, let us wave the flag in the local parade and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the town square. “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” is a beautiful anthem, and appropriately sung underneath the beautiful sun-lit or firework-streaked sky at a civic gathering.

There is a time and a place for everything – and though we pray for our nation in church, worship is not the time or place to celebrate our patriotism. As Christians, our central celebration is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Hope of all nations and all peoples. We don’t cease being Americans when we come to worship, but neither do we come to worship to celebrate our American heritage. We come to worship to sit at the foot of the cross, to gaze into the empty tomb, to hear the Good News for us and for all people, and to receive the grace and blessings that can come only from God.

May you have a safe and wonderful Independence Day holiday.

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Our worship book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes several prayers appropriate for national holidays in a section called Civil Life, Government, Nations (pages 76-78). Below are two prayers you might consider using at a time of family prayer on July 4th or on any other national holiday.

Holy Trinity, one God, you show us the splendor of diversity and the beauty of unity in your own divine life. Make us, who came from many nations with many languages, a united people that delights in our different gifts. Defend our liberties, and give those whom we have entrusted with authority the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our sovereign and Savior. Amen.

Almighty god, our heavenly Father, bless the public servants in the government of this country/state/county/town, especially (insert name of elected leaders), that they may do their work in a spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice. Help them use their authority to serve faithfully and to promote our common life; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pastor’s Approach: Holy Communion

This is the second in a new series of articles that I'm writing for my church newsletter.

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Several members of Grace have asked me how I go about doing baptisms, funerals, communion, and other areas of ministry. These are important questions, and different pastors go about their ministry in different ways. In this new Pastor’s Approach column, I will explore a different issue each month, sharing how I go about different aspects of the ministry. What I write here is not absolute, fixed, or non-negotiable, but simply an outline of how I approach my ministry. I hope this column is a conversation-starter on important topics in our shared life of faith here at Grace.

WHAT IS HOLY COMMUNION? Holy Communion is a sacred meal in which Christ comes to us in bread and wine. “This is my body given for you … This is my blood shed for you.” We believe those words to be true. Christ is truly present in Holy Communion. When we receive the bread and wine of this meal, we receive his body and blood.

WHAT HAPPENS IN HOLY COMMUNION? Christ comes to us in, with, and under the bread and wine to nourish the faith of Christians and the church. We share in a sacred meal that spans all time and space. We commune with the saints who have gone before us and with other Christians around the globe who gather at our Lord’s Table. The uncontainable presence, grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy of Christ comes to us in simple bread and wine.

WHO RECEIVES HOLY COMMUNION? All of God’s people are welcome to our Lord’s table – it’s our Lord’s table, after all, and all are invited. Let’s be clear – it is not “my” table, or “our” table, or a “Lutheran” table … it is our Lord’s table, and He sends out the invitations … to everyone under the sun.

The norm is for baptized Christians to receive the sacrament, as this is a Christian sacrament that nourishes and strengthens faith in Christ. And, it is the norm for Christians to receive instruction prior to first receiving the sacrament … and to continue to reflect on and learn about the sacrament throughout their Christian life. (Surely a few classes during childhood isn’t enough to comprehend the mystery and blessings of Holy Communion, is it?) These norms are not iron-clad laws, but they are norms … patterns for how this sacred meal is generally practiced.

There is no minimum age for receiving this sacrament. In years past an age-requirement reflected a desire by the church that those receiving the sacrament examine themselves and understand what it is they were receiving. Now such examination and understanding takes place at a variety of ages, and is a part of on-going, life-long education and faith formation. I generally ask that children express an interest in receiving the sacrament, and that they are able to sit through and participate in the worship service, prior to receiving communion for the first time. First communion classes will be held twice annually, during Lent and in the fall.

HOW SHOULD WE RECEIVE COMMUNION? We are to receive these gifts of bread and wine, of Christ’s body and blood, in faith, trusting that in this meal our Lord comes to us, forgives us our sins, renews us in faith, and leads us into new life. 

The manner of receiving varies in different churches and even within churches, and there is no “right” way to receive. I suggest that people approach reverently – not somberly, but reverently and expectantly – holding out their hand to receive the body of Christ from the ministers. Then, they may take that bread between two fingers and dip it into the cup, dabbing the bread so as to avoid dripping wine on oneself or on the floor, before consuming the bread and wine together. 

Upon hearing the words, “Body of Christ, given for you,” and “Blood of Christ, shed for you,” it is appropriate to respond, “Amen,” or “Thanks be to God.” It is also perfectly appropriate to smile a joyful smile, as this bread and wine are amazing gifts. Some Christians make the sign of the cross before and/or after receiving the bread and wine, as a sign of blessing and remembrance of their baptism. Others may also genuflect or bow before the bread and wine, a gesture that honors the body and blood of Christ … and which also humbles the one about to receive this great gift of Christ’s holy presence.

WHAT ABOUT ALLERGIES OR OTHER SENSITIVITIES TO BREAD AND WINE? The church has long taught that communion with just one element – receiving only bread or only wine – is a perfectly valid form of communion. Yet, other forms of food and drink – including gluten free bread, non-alcoholic drink – are available to churches, and have been the topic of conversation at a recent worship committee meeting and in personal conversations in my office. We will continue to discuss these issues and review our communion practices.

MORE TO SAY …  There is much more to say about Holy Communion. We can say more about all the prayers and words we traditionally say at the table. We can say more about how Lutheran practices of Holy Communion relate to those of other Christians. We can say more about the “how” of Holy Communion … from large chalices to little cups, wafers to pita, altar railings to standing to receive. We can look at what the Bible says about this meal. Clearly, there’s more to say …

Pastor’s Approach: Baptism

This is the first in a new series of articles that I’m writing for my church newsletter.

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Several members of Grace have asked me how I go about doing baptisms, funerals, communion, and other areas of ministry. These are important questions, and different pastors go about their ministry in different ways. In this new Pastor’s Approach column, I will explore a different issue each month, sharing how I go about different aspects of the ministry. What I write here is not absolute, fixed, or non-negotiable, but simply an outline of how I approach my ministry. I hope this column is a conversation-starter on important topics in our shared life of faith here at Grace.

Before we get to baptism, the topic of this month’s column, let me write this: I understand church rites and blessings to be acts of faith for people of faith. What we do in the church is intended to nurture the believer in faith, shape our life as a congregation according to the way of the cross, and lead us to act faithfully as bearers of Good News for all people. Our church rites and blessings are deeply personal and rooted in our shared faith, yet they have an impact on our wholes lives and on the life of the whole world, too.

WHAT HAPPENS IN BAPTISM? In baptism God joins us to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Baptism is a promise of resurrection and eternal life, an assurance that sin, death, and the Devil will not have ultimate power over us. Joined in baptism to Christ, we are made members of the Christian Church (the newly baptized are also made members of Grace Lutheran Church and added in our parish record).

IS BAPTISM HOCUS POCUS? Baptism is not magic. It is not a spell to keep children from eternal damnation. Rather, baptism is a unique proclamation and bestowal of God’s promises, promises that stay with the baptized and from which the baptized can take comfort throughout their entire life. Yet, we do not understand the absence of baptism to be the absence of God’s promises in one’s life. Scripture testifies that God works in and through all kinds of people. Through baptism the church does not presume to control or limit God’s activity. Baptism is a special and unique way through which God works, one which we Christians should take seriously. Yet, we know that God is at work in ways we do not understand, and we are confident of God’s love for all people, baptized or not.

GRANDPARENTS: I often get questions from grandparents asking about baptism for their grandchild, especially when the child’s parents are not church goers. This can create sorrow for Christian grandparents. Please talk with me if you have this concern. I want all such grandparents to be assured that their grandchild is loved by God, who knew them in the womb before they were even born (Jeremiah 1:5), and in whose image they were made (Genesis 1:27).

WHERE DO WE BAPTIZE? Because in baptism we are joined to the body of Christ, baptisms generally take place during worship. In emergency medical situations, or other situations where attending a service is impossible, baptisms can take place apart from worship. Such baptisms are generally later announced and affirmed in the congregation at a later date.

PREPARATION: Baptism involves death and resurrection, sin and forgiveness, and incorporation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not to be taken lightly. In the early church preparation for baptism was a several year process. While we no longer do such an elaborate process, preparation for baptism is important. I generally meet with families for two to three sessions prior to baptism to review what the church teaches about baptism, to inquire as to whether the individual (or their parents) are able to make certain promises about the Christian life (promises that are in the baptismal rite), and to encourage the candidate (or their parents) in faith filled practices for Christian living.

SCHEDULING: Baptisms need to be scheduled in conversation with the church. Not every church service is appropriate for a baptism, either from a church-season perspective or from a logistical perspective. And given the need for baptismal preparation sessions, baptisms generally need at least 6-8 weeks to schedule.

 

I understand that my approach to ministry might be slightly different than that of other pastors who have served here. Please come speak with me if you have any questions about baptism or any other aspect of our ministry together. For we have been called by God to be the Body of Christ in this world, working in faith, hope, and love to proclaim God’s Word and share God’s love with all the world.

 

A Dead Poet’s Society of Church Readers

A few times now, when talking with youth at church, I have shown them clips from Dead Poet's Society. Though I admit there is something old-manish about showing kids a film that was released years before they were born, the film taps into the power of poetry and of words.

The words we read in church have power. The Word of God is living and active. Not that I want our lectors on Sunday morning reading at a frenzied Robin Williams pitch, I do encourage readers to read clearly and with energy, and as if the words they were reading had the power to change lives … because they do.

Enjoy these two clips from Dead Poet's Society, and may the reading of Holy Scripture in your church give life to words that have the power to give life.

 

 

 

Looking Ahead: the Church as tenant in God’s mission field

Looking Ahead to Sunday's readings and the Good News of God I will strive to speak that day, I am wrestling with how we understand the relationship between of God's mission and the church's mission. Stewardship themes also come through strong, especially in the Gospel.

Appointed readings:

Isaiah 5:1–7
Psalm 80:7–15
Philippians 3:4b–14
Matthew 21:33–46

(full text of readings here)

In particular, I am struck by the words of Jesus in Matthew 21:43:

The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.

Jesus speaks these words after telling the chief priests and the elders a parable about tenants of a vineyard who had been entrusted with tending the vineyard and producing a crop for the landowner. When the landowner sends servants to collect the produce, the servants are killed or beaten or otherwise rejected. The landowner sends more servants, to the same end. Finally, he sends his son, who is treated in the same manner. Jesus asks what will happen to the tenants when the owner comes, and the chief priests and elders replay that the owner will put them to death and lease the vineyard to others who will give the owner the produce at harvest time.

A few things to note here:
For one, it is clear that we are talking about tenants working in the owner's field. Are we willing to view ourselves as tenants working in God's field? We cling so tightly to notions of ownership – of our land, our homes, our clothing, our cars, our money, our gadgets – yet we can too easily forget that all that we have comes from God.

And if we are tenants, entrusted with land and work (as in the parable) or with goods and money and house and time and energy, how are we called to use these things? What does the owner – God – intend for us to use these resources?

And if we are not using these resources according to how God intends them to be used, today's Gospel reminds us that responsibility for their sacred use can be taken from us and given to another. "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." God's kingdom is not dependent upon us. It is God's work that extends beyond us and our churches, and God is glad to give the work of building his kingdom to whomever proves willing and able to carry out the work.

Another thing. In the parable Jesus does not imply that the grapes in the vineyard were neglected or in any manner unworthy. For all we know, the tenants might have done a good job growing the grapes, and for this reason would rather keep the valuable harvest for themselves rather than share with the owner. The problem is that those responsible for delivering the crop to its rightful owner have no interest in doing so. How do we seek to keep for ourselves what we rightly owe to offer to God?

In the Isaiah text, we see God's disappointment that his beloved vineyard is not yielding the intended fruit, and he withdraws his care for the field and allows it to go to waste. As in the above parable about tenants, it seems in this reading that no single field is indespensible to God's mission. God will sow seed and harvest fruit wherever there is good soil.

In the Psalm, the psalmist pleads with God to restore the vineyard … a follow-up, of sorts, to the Isaiah reading, reminding God of what he has done in the vineyard, and asking him not to let it go to waste.

The Philippians reading is great, but isn't speaking with me in concert with the theme set up in the other readings. 

In fact, as good as the Isaiah text is, if you wanted to go with the stewardship theme – in advance of the traditional November stewardship Sunday(s) – a text such as Deuteronomy 26 or Leviticus 2 could be helpful to set up a discussion of the proper use of that with which we have been entrusted by God. So too with the Psalm. Psalm 24 could be good for such a theme.

Blessings to all who are preparing and delivering sermons this week!

“That was fun. Are we doing it again next week?”

This past Sunday the children of our congregation gathered toward the end of the worship service to bless the Sunday School teachers, who were being installed as part of our Rally Day celebrations. After the blessing, we gave the kids tambourines, shakers, and maracas, and they led us out of the church as the whole congregation sang, "We Are Marching in the Light of God." It was very nice way to start the Sunday School year, and a great way to celebrate the ministry of children in our congregation.

Later that evening, my 5 year-old daughter said to me, "Daddy, that was fun, playing with the maracas in church. Are we doing it again next week?" We were not planning on doing it again, of course, but her question got me thinking about consistency in worship. Kids get routine. In fact, they need routine. Preschool and elementary school teachers know that routine is essential in creating a learning and nurturing environment for children.

Many years ago I wrote about the importance of routine in worship, with a blogpost entited "Variable (or Vagarious?) Liturgical Texts." I do believe that we are formed in life and faith through repeated action. This is especially true for children. How can we offer a consistent, patterned, and participatory environment for children in worship? Children's sermons are good, but are often a passive experience for children. Assisting with communion might be appropriate for one or two children, as would be serving as a lay reader, but these are not ways to include most of the kids most of the time.

However it is done, I believe that weekly worship should include a regular element that actively includes children in doing something they are capable of doing, and which engages them in some sort of repeated, ritual action. It might be a song that is sung weekly, becoming familiar and allowing even non-reading children to fully participate. It might be a liturgical gesture or action, such as the procession we did this past Sunday, that kids can perform week after week. Whatever it is, a repeated action gives our kids something familiar to do, a chance to develop comfort and even expertise at performing an act of worship, and thus allows them to feel more "at home" and at ease with the worship life of the church.

A Prayer for Memorial Day

I noticed that in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the worship book of my church, there are no specific prayers for Memorial Day or the occasion of remembering those who died in service to our country. There are prayers for the armed forces and for our nation's leaders and other related topics, but nothing that quited seemed to me to fit for Memorial Day. So, I crafted a prayer for Memorial Day. Feel free to use, adapt, edit, or ignore. 

Almighty God, you are our strength and our shield. We give you thanks for the men and women of our armed forces, past and present, and especially for those who have died while serving. May their sacrifices serve the cause of peace, and may our nation be ever grateful for their service. With your wisdom and strength guide our military's leaders, and give to all people a desire for justice and peace. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

A good and safe Memorial Day weekend to you all!

Palm Sunday has Enough Passion of Its Own

A Christian Century blogpost by Karoline Lewis (Against Passion Sunday) has inspired a few posts among blogs I read, and a wonderful conversation on my Facebook profile. In her piece, Dr. Lewis recalls her childhood experience of worshiping on Palm Sunday. "It was celebratory, festive, when as child I got a chance for a hands-on worship experience and a glimpse of what royalty could look like." She then notes that for practical concerns – many people who worship on Palm Sunday will not be in worship for Holy Thursday and Good Friday – it might make sense to read the Passion narrative, but she laments what is lost by that practical consideration.

"I wonder if we need Palm Sunday's moments of praise for what they are, not what they will be in a few days. A celebration of Palm Sunday alone might bring back a pattern of faith that we need: the moments of pain, of suffering, of the victory of the world, are bracketed by hosannas and alleluias, by glory, laud and honor. It's a structure of belief that is inherent in the Gospel story."

I agree that the celebration of our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem – paradoxical as it is, with Jesus the King riding into town on a donkey – needs its own day. In the current practice of Palm/Passion Sunday, we read the Palm Sunday narrative as an entrance rite, but then within minutes we're reading a long Passion narrative, and the tenor of the day takes a quick, whiplash-inducing turn. We hardly get time to soak up the irony of Jesus' royal entrance, before we're rushed to his royal coronation on the cross.

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