PALM SUNDAY DANCE
PALM SUNDAY. I have some wonderful memories associated with this day and time. My Dad was the choir director at my home church, for several years, and Palm Sunday evening was often the performance of the annual CHOIR CANTATA (usually one by John W. Peterson…for all of you folks who remember his standards from church choir repertoire in the 1950s & ’60s). Also, Mom was the resident playwright and director for some truly awesome church productions, complete with soldiers, disciples and angels. As an only child, I was usually involved in all of that, just because if Mom & Dad were at the church, so was I. Later, when I was writing music, Palm Sunday and Holy Week became the times when some of my own music was performed at worship…some of those pieces are still some of my personal favorites.
Then, of course, my all-time favorite PALM SUNDAY was more than three decades ago when my oldest son, Cameron, was born (I think that was the only time in my life I’ve missed a Palm Sunday Worship Service).
It may be just me, but growing up in a church family and experiencing Palm Sunday processionals as a child, just as the weather was warming up, enjoying the “dramatic” and “musical” events…it was (and still is) like Christmas in that no matter what else is going on in the world, this is a time set aside for celebration.
One particular Palm Sunday, during my college days in Seattle when my irreverence during serious occasions was maturing, was quite amusing. During our worship we began with a processional from the back; first the choir (I was a tenor, in the back row), children with palm branches, and then the Pastoral Staff who were all participating in the worship leading. Most of the staff at the time (I was the Office Manager at this point) were young, and then there was a more mature woman on staff as well, as our professional Church Counselor. We all took our places and the service began. The Senior Pastor stepped to the pulpit and addressed the full sanctuary with words of greeting and led in a responsive reading (the usual, from the Gospels, recounting the Jerusalem processional).
Suddenly, jumping from her seat next to the song leader, our Counseling Pastor, during a calm part of the reading, quickly moved to the center of the platform and started, what seemed like, an odd sort of tap dance (on the carpet). Everything stopped. We stared, during what seemed like hours, trying to figure out if she was having some sort of Pentecostal moment (surely not), or spasm, (a very fun and rhythmic one, if that was it) or just what. When suddenly a small girl in the front of the sanctuary jumped up and yelled excitedly, “A dance!” as she started clapping and “dancing” along with our Associate Pastor.
Well, by that time, the confused congregation (especially those of us in the choir and close to the front) weren’t certain about what to do. By that time our female Associate had stopped “dancing” and was watching the little girl. She then moved down the couple of steps to the girl, took her hands and started to dance with her. The pianist began to play the song we had just sung and some clapping began. We began to get caught up in this strange, impromptu dance party, in the middle of what had been a carefully-planned worship service.
The whole thing lasted only a moment. When the song ended everyone clapped, and our Associate moved to the pulpit to explain that one of the candles had lit a palm frond end on fire and a little ember had floated down to the carpet where it began to burn. Our vigilant Associate was the only one who noticed. Thereby, she jumped from her seat, scurried to the burning carpet and began stomping it out with her high-heeled feet. It wasn’t apoplexy or the Holy Spirit…it was a small fire…which looked to us like a dance from a person for whom dancing wasn’t a part of her perceived nature.
But for that moment a misunderstood action turned into a spontaneous dance party and the agenda was set aside.
Two-thousand years ago, Jesus could have stopped the procession on the way to Jerusalem and given everyone a lesson in WHY He was entering Jerusalem, and WHAT He was going to do. But, for the crowds at least, He let it go, He let them celebrate. They were misinterpreting what was going on, but Jesus didn’t stop the praise, and knew it was futile to try. He also understood there is a time for everything, present circumstances don’t override expressions of joy. In THE Kingdom, there is ALWAYS a reason to dance.
That is, I guess, what the pageantry, music and drama of PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK are for me. No matter what else is going on in the world, and much of the world around us is in chaos, because of who HE is, and because of WHAT is certain and sure in our future…it IS appropriate to interrupt the agenda and dance.