My Word of the Week: Anticipation

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

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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.”

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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.”

I smiled.

“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.
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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.

Photo by kevin dooley, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Margaret Feinberg ,

    I love this, Charity! Hope you have a wonderful Lenten Season.

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      Charity Singleton Craig ,

      Thanks, Margaret. The #LentChallenge is really doing amazing things in my heart. Thank you.

    • Megan Willome ,

      You get to bring your palms back if you choose? How cool!

      Yesterday, I went to the Ash Wednesday service that includes the school kids, and the priest kept asking the kids why we burn the palms, and no one knew. Every kid kept giving Sunday school answers. I’m guessing that if he’d asked the adults the same question, most of us would have given church-y answers, too. Then he explained that we made promises on Palm Sunday–to worship the Messiah–and we broke our promises. So today, we receive a symbol of our failure to keep our promises.

      “I am a failure!” he said, anointing his own head with ash. “And if you are, too, you can come forward and receive.”

      I ended up in the line with a man from our couples Bible study. My eyes filled with tears when he did the cross on my forehead. I can’t remember the words, but the ashes didn’t even wash off when I washed my hair later that day.

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Megan – This is so beautiful. I had never heard Ash Wednesday explained quite like this. I would have probably given a Sunday School answer too. Thank you for sharing this. I am praying for peace for you today, my friend.

      • Diana Trautwein ,

        We tie a bunch of them somewhere on the church grounds, or at the parsonage next door and then burn them on Ash Wednesday. They truly do make the best ashes for imposition! I think you did VERY WELL to remember your palm – and you weren’t alone, either. I love the tradition myself – taking those simple elements of triumph and creating ash out of them so that we might remember our own infirmities and sin. Cool contrast, you know? BTW – thanks so much for you kind, hand-written note which arrived yesterday – your words mean a lot to me.

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          Charity Singleton Craig ,

          Diana – I guess you probably have burned your share of palm branches over the years, huh? It did add an extra layer of specialness tonight knowing where those ashes come from. They didn’t really talk about it during the service – more of the insider knowledge, I guess. I hadn’t quite thought of the triumph that leads to mourning. Yes, a powerful symbol.

          And I’m glad you got my note. I meant every word!

        • Sandra Heska King ,

          My sister gave me a cross created from a palm frond last year. I just looked for it where I thought I’d left it, and it’s gone. I’m sad.

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            Charity Singleton Craig ,

            Sorry about your palm cross, Sandy. I’ve seen people make those before. My was just an old dead palm branch, nothing fancy. But it seemed important to me to see it through after I had kept it so long. Peace be with you!

          • Ann Kroeker ,

            Your persistence paid off–your palm was added to the mix. They have enough now. More than enough, perhaps, or maybe just the right amount. In any case, thank you for sharing your marvelous story. I look forward to your Ash Wednesday experience.

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              Charity Singleton Craig ,

              Ann – Thank you. I am pretty new to all of this, but thankful to be part of it. Tonight’s Ash Wednesday service was beautiful. I’m still wearing the mark now as I type. Did you go to an Ash Wednesday service?