Why I’m choosing palms

Notice we have turned to ritual. The world turned upside down, and suddenly my Facebook feed is full of Morning check-ins and calls for door decorations. It shouldn’t be surprising; ritual has long been the way that we create rhythm and mark meaning in life. It is a visible expression of the faith we hold, the faith we need in our hardest times.

But in life before corona virus, few of us lived lives steeped in ritual. So now we are cobbling together whatever we can from memories, inspirations, and leftover craft supplies.  We are looking to proclaim comfort and hope.  Yet we need to be aware that rituals form as much as they express.  It is good to look for things that will embody faith, but as we create them we should be conscious of the deeper meanings we might be embedding

My digital ecosystem offered me several options for what to do with my door this week. Two seemed to gain the most traction. Hanging palm branches or marking the door frame with red. There are palm branches on my door.

We reach for ritual when we need something. Right now, we desperately want this quarantine to be over, for our friends and family to be safe, and to know that there is hope beyond the present moment. Some Christians have noted that the Jewish festival of Passover runs from April 8th through 16th. They recognize that we are all hungry for deliverance and are marking their doors with red cloth or ribbon. This is not the ritual we’re looking for.

First of all, Passover is a sacred Jewish celebration steeped in ritual and tradition.  Traditions which those of us outside the faith do not fully understand and should be hesitant to co-opt for our own needs.

Second, Exodus is a story of God’s deliverance. But the Passover comes at the cost of Egyptian children.  That is not a small detail. I firmly believe God does not require a blood sacrifice for anyone’s salvation. I’m uncomfortable with the implication that I would like God to pass over my house, but I have little concern for this disease and death that could be visited on others. I don’t think anyone intends such a statement, but rituals carry layers of meaning often beyond our conscious intentions.

Third, if we are looking to enact a great story of death and resurrection, we don’t have to search outside the Christian tradition. It is Holy Week. It is the moment when we tell our most important story. The Church has 2000 years of ritual tradition to offer us in this season. We should avail ourselves of it.

There are poms on my door because on Sunday my King rode into Jerusalem on a donkey promising a new Kingdom not ruled by violence and fear. On Thursday, I will practice washing as a holy act to remember what it is to serve and to prepare. On Friday, I will mourn for all those who die by no fault of their own, and I will face my mortality. So that on Easter, I will truly understand the glory of the resurrection.

This is a story we need to tell right now, and even though we are distant from our church buildings, it is a story we can enact in ritual in our home And embedded in our hearts. Join me on the journey this week. Put palms on your door, wash your hands, set aside space to grieve. And next Sunday, add some Flowers some ribbon some color to those leaves on your door as we mark Easter resurrection.

[Beyond Sunday] There’s So Much To Worry About

image: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[j] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[k] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[l] and his[m]righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

-Matthew 6:25-34

We all carry weights like doubt, shame, and grief.  These can get in the way of our relationship with God and with one another.  Fear and anxiety feel like the order of our day.  But Christ reminds us that worry only puts the burden of our life on us, rather than on God, who is eager to provide.  In learning to focus on God, rather than ourselves, we are relieved of stress and worry.    [hear sermon audio]


This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What do you worry about most?
  • What might that worry be trying to tell you?
  • How do you spend your mental energy?  Thinking more about yourself or others?

Do and share:

  • Name something that causes you anxiety.  Lift it in prayer this week and make a plan.  Ask God for the strength to commit to your plan and see it through.  Every time you feel yourself start to worry, remind yourself there is a plan and you’ve given it to God.
  • Share your worry prayer request on Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).


[Beyond Sunday] If You Really Knew Me

image: Detail from Sistine Chapel 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

-Psalm 139: 14

We all carry weights like doubt, shame, and grief.  These can get in the way of our relationship with God and with one another.  But in Christ’s resurrection, we are all made new creations.  We have only to set down the burdens we carry and step into the life God has for us.  Psalm 139 reminds us that we are beloved creations of God.  Nothing we do or believe we are could ever separate us from God.  [hear sermon audio]


This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How do you understand the difference between guilt and shame?
  • How is guilt helpful in teachings how to live?
  • Why is shame unhelpful?
  • What shame do you need to release to God?

Do and share:

  • Find art images that depict shame.  Journal about what you see in them.  Are their similarities?  What in the images you chose resonates with you?
  • Share your prayer request on Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).


[Beyond Sunday] Easter

image: Resurrection 1,  Solomon Raj

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

-John 20:15-18

John 19:30 says it is finished.  Indeed, the reign of death is done; the great work of salvation is put in motion; the final battle is won.  But the story isn’t yet complete.  Easter marks the dawn of a new day and calls us into God’s ongoing project of resurrection.  [hear sermon audio]


This week, take some time to go deeper.  Explore how each of the gospels recounts the story of Easter.  And how their understanding shapes our faith.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Who comes to the tomb first and why?
  • What is their first response?
  • What does Jesus say to them?
  • What do they do when they leave?

Do and share:

  • After you have read all four stories and answered the questions for each, consider your own response to the resurrection.  Who are you most like?  How do you respond each year to the news that Christ is risen?
  • Share why Jesus matters for your life with someone you know.  Tell us the story on Facebook or Twitter (@dpumc).


[Beyond Sunday] Palm Sunday

image: Entry of Christ into Jerusalem,  Wilhelm Morgner

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

-Mark 11:8-11

Mark’s telling of the entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus asks his disciples to commit larceny, tramples a lot of perfectly good cloaks, has a rather awkward scheduling conflict with Pilot’s Passover procession, sticks his head in the temple for a hot second and then goes straight back to Bethany– where he started in the first place.   There is a lot more happening in this story than a simple parade.  As usual, the work God is about is so much greater than we expect.  But there are no shortcuts to the Kindom. [hear sermon audio]


This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions in your own devotion time this week.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When has a friend or family member acted differently than you expected?
  • How did you respond?  What, if anything did you learn about yourself?
  • What expectations do you have of God?
  • How do your expectations support your faith?
  • What might they blind you too?

Do and share:

  • There are no shortcuts to Easter.  This Holy Week, commit to walking through the whole week.
    • Read at least one of the appointed readings each day.  You can find them at this page from the Vanderbilt library . They also have prayers and art.
    • Join us at DPUMC for Holy Thursday and Good Friday services.  Or find Holy Week services in your area.