Goodbye To Palms and Alleluias   1 comment

As I write this, it is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (more accurately, it’s the Monday before Ash Wednesday, but I haven’t gone to bed yet).

Many Christians bring home the palm fronds we receive on Palm Sunday and place them on a shrine or near a cross or icon for the next 10 1/2 months; mine gets pinned to the wall behind three icons I have on my wall (Christ Pantocrator, The Annunciation, and Martin Luther King of Georgia, all by Br. Robert Lenz). Traditionally, we bring the palms back to church on the Sunday before Lent begins, so that they might be burned to provide the ashes that will be imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. But my palm fronds have never been among the burned; I never remember to bring them back. I invariably walk into Grace Cathedral empty-handed, see the basket where others have deposited their yellowed branches, and do a mental facepalm.

Until now: this morning, thanks to reminders yesterday from my friends Peggy and Ron, I finally remembered, strolled up the hill with palm frond in hand, and happily added it to the pile at the baptismal font.

I’ve always understood this tradition to be about our contribution to the common ashes—about bringing the ritual full circle from the beginning of Holy Week to the beginning of Lent. But when I came home this afternoon, the first thing I noticed in my apartment was the bare wall behind the icons, enhanced for the past near-year by blessed greenery. For the next 6 weeks it will be bare, until Palm Sunday provides me with decoration again. And so I understood something new about this ritual: it’s part of the giving-up of Lent. A little harbinger of the living-without that begins this week.

The final hymn this morning was “Alleluia! Sing To Jesus!”—a hymn chock-full of Alleluias. The word, of course, will be removed from the liturgy until Easter, so this was goodbye. As the organ played the intro, I recognized why this hymn had been chosen and sighed wistfully. My friend Cathy, feeling the same way, leaned over and said, “Last time we get to sing this for a while.”

The first time I, as a new Episcopalian, attended an Easter Vigil, I cried when the Alleluia hymn was sung marking the word’s return. The Presbyterian church in which I grew up never made any note of the liturgical absence of the word (at least not in a way that made it clear to me), so I hadn’t realized until that year how much I could miss a mere word spoken or sung on Sunday mornings. Now every year it is like an old friend who disappears for six weeks, only to return joyfully, even tearfully.

So goodbye palm, and goodbye Alleluia. You are a mere decoration and a simple word of praise, but I will miss you dearly.

Posted 20 February 2012 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

One response to “Goodbye To Palms and Alleluias

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  1. Pingback: How To Make Ashes « Max Abbacowe

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