an·tic·i·pa·tion – noun \(ˌ)an-ˌti-sə-ˈpā-shən\
: a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen
: the act of preparing for something
With only one day to spare, I finally remembered to take my palm branch to church today.
Last year on Palm Sunday, after the children walked down the aisle waving palm branches, and after we all celebrated the arrival of King Jesus, humble and riding on a donkey, the pastors distributed the palm branches to the families of the church to take home.
“Put them somewhere safe where they can dry out,” Pastor had told us. “And next year, for Ash Wednesday, we will burn the palm branches and use the ash to mark the cross on our foreheads.”
At least that’s what I thought he said.
Having worshiped for years without the rites of the church calendar, I am always attracted to these new little twists in the worship service–the ones you don’t know about until you experience them blindly the first couple of times. On Sundays, I now know to respond with “Thanks be to God,” when the Scripture Reader says, “The Word of God for the People of God.” And I have learned to walk forward and kneel at the altar to receive communion. Last year, on Ash Wednesday, I learned about “passing the peace,” and on Easter, I exclaimed, “He is Risen indeed!” with the congregation when the pastor announced, “He is Risen.”
So, when Palm Sunday afforded me the opportunity to squirrel away a palm branch for next year’s Ash Wednesday service, I couldn’t resist. As soon as we got home, I tucked it away on the top of the refrigerator hoping upon hope that I wouldn’t forget it 10 months later.
Throughout the year, I’ve noticed the branch up there, slowly losing what life it had left in its green fronds. Once or twice, when I was cleaning the top of the fridge, I considered just tossing it in the garbage. How much ash would this one branch produce?
But just a couple of weeks ago, I saw the branch again, this time realizing that Lent was right around the corner.
“When do I take the palm branch back?” I asked my husband. He had been part of our Methodist Church much longer than I have.
“I don’t know,” he responded.
“I’ll have to ask Pastor Jake or Pastor Michael,” I told him. “They need it to burn for Ash Wednesday.”
The fact that my husband did not seem to remember this religious ritual should have been my first clue that I didn’t have my facts straight. Unfortunately, I missed the signs.
That next Sunday, when Pastor Michael approached to greet us, I spurted out, “When do I bring back my palm branch? I’ve been saving it all year.”
He smiled. “You’re the second person to ask me that,” he said. “You don’t have to bring it back. We saved some here at the church to burn for Ash Wednesday.”
I felt deflated. He could tell.
“You know, not everyone gets to take the palm branches home,” he continued. “The people in the first service don’t so we can use them in the second service. You guys are special.”
“If you want to, just bring it back next Sunday,” he offered. “We don’t actually burn them until the night before or the day of.”
It was settled.
This past Sunday, we were running late for church and had just turned off our street when I realized I had forgotten my palm branch. “It’s too late to go back now,” my husband said. I knew he was right.
“I’ll just drop it off tomorrow or Tuesday,” I conceded.
I stopped by the church today on my way home from work, the Palm branch having ridden to and from the city with me. “I’m not too late, am I?” I asked the church secretary, Carla, as I handed her the dried-out branch.
“No, he won’t actually burn them until tomorrow,” she said. When I told her that I now realized it wasn’t normal for members of the church to return their palm branches, she said I wasn’t the only one to bring them in.
“And this way, we know we have enough,” she offered.
We shared a few Ash Wednesday stories, and then I walked out of the office and through the side entrance and back to my car.
My palm had come full circle, or at least it would once the ashes of mourning were mixed with the oil of gladness, and were smeared on my forehead with the thumb of the pastor.
But that’s a story for tomorrow.
WORD COUNT: 757
And if you are considering how to observe Lent this year, join me in Margaret Feinberg’s Lent Challenge to read the New Testament in 40 Days. It’s not just to say we did it, but a way to meet Jesus in a fresh way in his word this Lent.