Changing churches will change your life.
I grew up in one of those stripped-down Protestant churches that barely, barely noticed the church year. We had Easter—which was usually a competition to see who brought the most family members. (Yes, I know. I thought that promotion inappropriate, too.) I wanted more.
Christmas was a potluck, one of many potlucks at that church, with gifts for the children and the poor. (I don’t remember a red-dressed Santa when I grew up, but they had added him by the time I was a young adult.) Everyone went home with a paper grocery bag of fresh fruits and unshelled nuts and red-striped mints. (Yes, I know. I thought we should have had a little caroling, at least.) I wanted more.
I used to sit in that church and stare at the bare walls and plain windows (changed for “art” glass in later years), and I wished for more.
- Every service was three hymns.
- During one of those first hymns, the tithe was taken, and everyone was reverently silent as we gave our donations to the church.
- Following those hymns was the choir special, sometimes followed by another special (a soloist or a duet or a trio).
- Every sermon was thirty minutes, more or less. God forbid we went past noon and interfered with people getting to local restaurants.
- The service ended with the altar call, however many verses of an appropriate hymn were needed, then a prayer by a deacon so the minister could hurry to the church doors and greet everyone as they left. (Isn’t that strange? Greeting people as they depart. Surely that’s the wrong way around?)
As a young adult, I visited a local church in a different denomination and was impressed by their banners on the wall. I still remember two of those banners: one had flames emblematic of the Holy Spirit; another had a lamb with a cross. That church recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed at every Sunday service. That was more.
I began to look at other denominations. What did they have that I had always longed for?
My search took me through other denominations and religions. One thing remained constant: my belief :: my faith in Christ Jesus, my awe of God, a need for the Holy Spirit.
I argued that worship should occur in God’s realm, out in His nature, not in a man-constructed building. I still believe that, but I have now admitted that my argument was merely a convenient excuse to sleep in on Sunday.
If I need to sleep in, I should take a nap.
I complained about the church being filled with hypocrites. You know what? Church is the best place for hypocrites. They need to come closer to God, don’t they?
Where else will sinners be surrounded by people filled with God’s love than at church?
I became frustrated with church politics and churches being hijacked by political agendas and churches that let corruption rise up and churches that shun and churches that close doors and close the Lord’s table and dozens of things.
But we “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
There, that’s out of the way.
A couple of years ago, after many years of seeking, I participated in something I have never done before: a Palm Sunday celebration designed to commemorate the Palm Sunday of Christ. “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest.” In that packed church, palms were everywhere, waving above heads, lifted high, twirled about.
We sang “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)”, that wonderful song at this link.
All my life I’ve heard of Palm Sunday. It was a passing notice in churches I once attended. The minister would sometimes preach about tithing, so appropriate with the tax deadline looming near.
Today, with this, this waving of palms, this celebration of hearts turning to God, this onset of Holy Week, one of the oldest festivals of the Christian Church, this is MORE.
Holy Week is the culmination of Lent, 40 days of fasting and prayer and focusing on the events of Christ’s life on earth.
Each day of Holy Week is designed to guide us to thinking about Christ’s sacrifice for us, lowly sinners, God made man in order to bring us into relationship with Him.
And Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday.
Knowing what awaits Him, Christ enters Jerusalem. The fickle people celebrate this great man whom they think is no more than a prophet with special gifts of healing. The power-hungry leadership rubs their hands together as they think, ‘Now we can trap him,’ and never know that His sacrifice is a willing one.
Come with me on my journey to share the MORE of the two weeks surrounding Easter.
For when we see Him, we find strength to face the day. (a slight alteration to the lyrics of Brendan Brown and Paul Beloche)