The subtitle of today's blog could be "Hey, Mom! There's goop on my forehead!"
Remember your history? Remember how the Puritans in Massachusetts forbade the celebration of Christmas? Growing up as a Southern Baptist in the South, the church didn't celebrate Christmas with a church service unless December 25th happened to fall on a Sunday. We also didn't celebrate Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday. They were considered too "Catholic". Never mind that as a current Episcopalian, the church celebrates those holy days but without the authority of the Bishop of Rome, or the Pope, depending on which side of the Reformation you sit.
Today, in case you missed it, is Palm Sunday. It's the day that the Church remembers Jesus' triumphant procession into Jerusalem. We carry palm fronds and crosses woven from palm leaves as a reminder that the people laid palm branches and cloaks on the road as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It's very celebratory.
But then something gets in the way. You see, Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week which culminates in seven days on Easter. In between, Jesus will celebrate Passover with his disciples (Maundy Thursday), be arrested, tried, and executed (Good Friday). Finally to rise again in the promised Resurrection (Easter).
That's not what gets in the way, however. What gets in the way is that people don't or won't attend church this week on Thursday and Friday. In order to have the Easter story on Easter Sunday, somehow we have to get Jesus from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the trials of Good Friday. So the Palm Sunday service becomes dysfunctional in attempting to celebrate Jesus, institute the rite of communion, and crucify him all in one fell swoop of a service.
It wasn't until I was sitting in the 5:00 p.m. service this afternoon that I realized I really don't like the Palm Sunday liturgy. Especially since I plan to attend church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And this year at our parish, there's even a Holy Saturday service for the "forgotten" day of Easter.
A couple of things made up for the week's worth of liturgy packed into one service. The 5:00 p.m. service is much higher church than the other services at our parish. Incense carries our prayers heaven-ward while a sung liturgy hearkens back to the early Church. After communion, parishioners are invited into the side chapel for a laying on of hands for healing.
The 5:00 service was my first choice following the shattering of my finger back in January. Having a priest lay hands on my head and pray for healing and health brings me comfort and peace. Yet today, the priest did something that I don't remember from other healing services. He rubbed his thumb in the chrism and made the sign of the cross on my forehead before laying his hands on my head and praying for my continued healing.
Five weeks ago there were ashes in the exact same place and design reminding me that I am but dust and to dust I will return. Now the olive-and-balsam oil is anointing me with healing strength. The same questions from Ash Wednesday creep into my thoughts.
Do I wash it off or let it wear away on its own? It's an outward sign of an inward contemplation, although nowhere nearly as obvious as a big black smudge. I can see the shiny cross on my forehead in the mirror because I know what I'm looking for. Like the Turkish rug merchant showing a buyer the slightest imperfection, it's my disclaimer before God that I need His healing grace.
3 days ago