The King is coming

Published 7:20 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sometimes we see or hear things over and over until we lose clarity of the meaning of the event being described.

This Sunday for the first time in more than 25 years, I sat in the sanctuary with the congregation during the Palm Sunday service. My recent shoulder surgery has made playing the organ impossible for the next few weeks.

Before the service I took in the sights and sounds like anyone else. I even made it a point of walking in the front door of the church, experiencing the greeter and looking at the bulletin for the first time as I sat down.

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The fairly recent addition of recorded music and videos prior to the service filled a space that used to be used for just visiting. It didn’t prevent people from lining up and asking me how I was doing. Even though Mary Lou and some friends are in California, I sat in the third pew on the left just as she and our family have done for many years.

The pianist began by playing “The Palms,” a traditional Palm Sunday song I could play in my sleep. For the first time I got to see, really see the children as they marched in waving the palm leaves and putting them at the foot of the cross.

I studied their faces, beaming at their parents or shyly grinning, as they came forward. I wondered if the faces of the children had the same sense of innocence when Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Even as our expanded parking lot is full of SUVs, trucks and sedans full of young families, I thought about the donkey carrying Jesus. That must have surprised even those of his time who expected a more grand entrance for the King of Kings.

I watched as two people joined our church, listening to the age old questions they were asked as part of their public profession of faith. These questions become automatic over time, but sitting there and concentrating on nothing but the questions and their individual responses, I felt like a participant in this important event in their lives.

I watched the large group of young people come up front for Children’s Church. From my new vantage point, I could study their faces, some oblivious to what was going on and some already learning about the church. What a responsibility we have to raise these young children.

I then listened to the “King is Coming” probably the most tradition bound song of the year for this particular church. I could feel my fingers moving on my legs as the song I have played each year since my 20s picked up the tempo and changed keys. I also closed my eyes for the first time and listened to the words and music. The words bring the message of our preparation and excitement at the pending arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem.

How many different ways can you tell the story of Easter and Christmas, the two most important dates of the Christian year? Today it was like a new story for me. Maybe the minister told it in a better than usual way, or perhaps my heart was open and receptive because of my changing circumstances.

This week I will participate in a relatively new tradition for the churches in our community. The Ministerial Association presents a different minister each day at lunch in the host church that is rotated each year. I love these services because they demonstrate in a very public way that Christians share this message regardless of their individual denominations.

I love hearing the different styles of worship, from the allegedly frozen chosen to the enlightened evangelicals. The way I look at it, none of us have a lock on the right way to worship, but God certainly has the capacity to receive our pleas and praise no matter what form they take.

Holy Week services seem to be the time of the year when the racial divides that continue to plague the church narrow just a bit. I share some great memories with my friends that come from breaking bread after sharing worship. Everyone loves a good pimento cheese sandwich.

Easter approaches full of our own individual traditions as the week comes to a close. Laura will be wearing her new Easter dress that Mary Lou and I purchased just as my own grandfather purchased each year for his two granddaughters.

This will be the first Easter I will actually sit with my children, grandchildren, as well as Mary Lou and my mother. We will watch the children once again march down the aisle only this time with flowers instead of palm leaves. The wooden cross will show all the colors of spring, new flowers showing the new life that is possible for all believers.

We will then gather with other members of our extended family to hunt Easter eggs and share another wonderful Easter lunch. As tradition dictates, Ernest will cook the ham, which he and I will secretly sample many times prior to lunch to make sure it is just right.

So what does Easter mean to me?

Obviously it celebrates the resurrection of Christ after his death on the cross. For me, that means I am also celebrating the eternal life given to me and millions of other Christian believers because of his death and resurrection.

It means that resurrection provides final and irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Son of God. It means that he conquered death and allows me to conquer it as well.

That allows me to truly rejoice; rejoice at the prospect of eternal life, rejoice at the blessings I enjoy during my life on this earth, and to celebrate this with my family.

I do not say this is the only way, for I expect to enjoy heaven with those who love God in different ways than I do. God is so big that I could never begin to say that only those just like me will experience God’s grace. But for me, Easter is a time for me to celebrate the way that I have experienced that grace and how it has become real to me.

My shoulder has allowed me an opportunity to slow down and celebrate this particular Easter. I rejoice in knowing that for me there is a certainty indeed that The King is coming.