We lined up in the church lobby — about 100 preschool and elementary school children and the volunteers tasked with keeping them quiet for those few minutes. I pressed my ear to the door, listening for our signal.
Ok, he’s still doing announcements, I thought, wondering how long our pastor was going to talk about Easter service times while these kiddos grew increasingly restless. I made a mental note to bring the kids out a few minutes later during the next service.
As the children’s ministry director at our church, Palm Sunday was one of my most stressful Sundays. It was like a jigsaw puzzle, moving up our own worship time and helping late families get to the right place, trying to estimate how long the beginning of the worship service would last, and then gently suggesting to our pastor that he perhaps make his announcements as concise as possible, despite the million details related to Easter Sunday.
And then there were the palm branches — scheduling their delivery, drying them off, stripping them into smaller pieces, distributing them, convincing second grade boys to stop hitting one another with them, asking four-year-olds to stop chewing on them.
I’m a bit of a control freak. I like things to progress just so and according to plan. I function best under concrete timelines, clear expectations, and certain outcomes.
The Palm Sunday service involved too many moving pieces and too many elements beyond my control; my neck itched, and I wished for a second application of deodorant. I held a finger to my lips and shushed the group one more time. Please no one cry. Please no one have to go to the bathroom. I put my ear to the door again. Is it time?
Suddenly, the guitars picked back up, and there was our cue. The offering baskets began their journey up and down the rows of gray chairs as we opened the heavy sanctuary doors. I put my most enthusiastic volunteers at the front of the lines; we clapped our hands and said, “Wave those palm branches high, guys! It’s time.”
And we sang: Hosanna, hosanna!
Their lap through the sanctuary ended as quickly as it began, and I offered high-fives to each kid on their way out of the sanctuary. We spent the rest of the service learning about that word, “Hosanna,” and the humble King who fulfilled prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
But before I guided the little ones back into our normal Sunday routine, I took one last peek into the sanctuary of adults, normally very reserved in their worship. That’s when I saw them: the smiles. And that’s when I heard it: the laughter. And that’s when I felt it: the joy.
To think I almost missed it!
For the people of God, that first Palm Sunday was a celebration. Generation after generation waited for a sign of the promised Messiah. I imagine with every prophecy, shift in the weather, and change of regime and ruler, they wondered: Is that the Messiah? Is it time?
I wouldn’t function well in that long, long waiting. I wonder whether my faith would have withstood the questions and uncertainty. As Jesus rode on a donkey under their canopy of palm leaves, they shouted “Hosanna” and their hearts said, It’s time.
I just barely understand the sweet relief and rapturous celebration of that moment.
I’m not serving in children’s ministry right now; we’ve since moved 1,000 miles away from our old church. I’m home with my 3 year old, 16 month old, and newborn. Right now, we are finishing mortgage paperwork. With three under four and an impending move, it would be easy to get caught up in logistics and timelines and my control freak tendencies. But that’s not how I hope to spend this Easter season.
Instead, I’ll hand my toddlers some palm leaves cut from green construction paper, and when they wake up on Palm Sunday, I’ll tell them, “It’s time!”
And I won’t miss the joy.