One of the crucial elements of the function kitchen is timing. Most everything is done in stages and needs to be finished just before it is served, so the food is fresh and attractive – both of which can be difficult when you’re trying to get the meals to two hundred people at the same time. The salads are made, put on racks that resemble a medieval torture device, and then the rack is wrapped in plastic and stored in the walk in refrigerator until five or ten minutes before they are served, when we cut open the plastic and descend on the salads with our squeeze bottles full of dressing. If the dressing goes on too soon, the salads are limp; if it goes on too late, the salads are, well, late.
We have a general idea of the schedule for serving, but every event is a little different, both in the way it is planned and the way it plays out. How we timed the meal at tonight’s wedding was not quite the same as the night before, or the one tomorrow. We expend a lot of energy trying to get the perfect the timing; the truth is, I think, it matters and it doesn’t matter. The folks in the room came to celebrate a wedding, not to stand in awe of my culinary prowess.
Palm Sunday marks the turn towards home, as far as Lent is concerned: Easter is in sight and, for most churches, we gear up one way or another to move intentionally through Holy Week. Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday for some, which I suppose came about, in part, because of the reality that many people won’t participate in services other than Sunday, so the gradual reliving and retelling of the story is lost on them. If they are going to be a part of our journey through the Cross to the Resurrection, then they need to hear it tomorrow. So many churches divide their worship services starting with palms and ending with the Crucifixion, which I think is a good thing, since there is no need for a spoiler alert: we all know where the story is going.
At our church, we begin by gathering before church in the garden to bless the palms and then we process, singing, into the church to begin worship. The idea is wonderful and has been logistically challenging to coordinate the singing on the outside of the building with the music and singing on the inside. We’ve tried several things – opening windows (too cold), strategically placing choir members along the path – and some have worked better than others. Over the years, we’ve gotten better at it and we’ve learned that part of the deal is those of us processing into the church are never going to be exactly in sync with those inside until we all get inside together. That was never the point. We process because we, like the people in Jerusalem that day, are trying to understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
The first time around, I’m sure there was a much smaller gathering of the faithful at Golgotha than on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. Even the first Easter was not so well attended. I wonder how many years on it was before churches began putting out extra seating for the “Easter crowd.” I don’t know of any minister who doesn’t wonder what could be done to get more of those who come primarily on Christmas and Easter to participate more regularly and meaningfully in the congregation. The reasons for why people don’t find a more significant connection are as varied as the number of them who come: grief, pain, indifference, priorities, hurt feelings, time, to name a few. But on Easter, and maybe even Palm Sunday, they’re in the room.
Let’s start there. Don’t worry about the timing. Feed them.
I have mixed feelings as we gather in the garden with our palms each year. We wave our fronds and sing hosanna, emulating the people who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, yet, as I read the story, we are emulating people who sort of missed the point. The king they were cheering for was not the one coming to town. Jesus rode into town on a donkey, not a valiant steed. Did they not notice that as they cheered? Whether fair-weather or faithful, few if any knew where the path they lined with their coats was heading. My feelings get mixed because I have a hard time coming to terms with identifying with them, which I need to do if I’m going to get to Easter. I miss the point too, even though I’ve always waved my palms knowing where the story goes. I still miss the point, sometimes.
The timing of the week is significant from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday. We’ve worked hard to outline the courses and to move with intentionality. We know where the story is going and there is still room for surprise. Though we have done this many times before, just as I know the way an evening rolls out in the kitchen, there is still room for surprise, thank God. Some people will sit down for all the courses, some will show up only for the appetizers or the entrees, and there are seats for all, if we’ve done our job well.
“I love to tell the story,” the old hymn says, “for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”
In my kitchen, I get the food ready and work to serve it well, but I don’t get to sit down and eat. At church, we are those we prepare the table and who gather around it. We are the ones who both issue and receive the invitations, the ones who tell the story and who need to hear it. May we serve whoever shows up and sit down and eat whenever we can. It’s not the timing; it’s the meal.