Here in Florida — the land of palm branches a-plenty — one can actually find them scattered about to wave for Palm Sunday. Even if it’s only one palm frond you find in your backyard and you wave it as a personal worship celebration, and incidentally, for the amusement of your two young pups.
It is so much fun to watch their delight as you wave it to and fro. “Hosanna,” you say. “Hosanna.” You say this quietly, hoping the neighbors are not bothered by your odd behavior. But wave it you do and wave it some more as you see how delighted your pups are to play with it. Like kittens with a ball of string, Brittany Buddy and Retriever Lily, jump and frolic and lunge for the fronds. Finally, you give in and toss it in the air for them to catch. They each grab an end and tug and tussle, happily pulling it from each other. What fun! A new toy!
Ah, but then Lily gets a strong grip; she grabs and runs. Buddy gives chase. Lily spins, Buddy misses. Buddy grabs, Lily latches on and tugs it away again. Buddy gets frustrated and growls at Lily. She romps away to sit with her acquisition and rip, rip, rip the fronds. Buddy snarls and bites at her back. Not so playful anymore. Lily protects and defends what’s left. The palm branch is now in shreds.
On any other day, these two are inseparable. Where one goes the other follows. If one leaves, the other whines in protest. They share a common water bowl. They will eat from the same food bowl without complaint. They take turns when snacks are offered, never denying the other his due. And yet… when there is one treasured prize, the mild manner is left behind.
This is mine. Not yours. Because this is mine, it cannot be yours.
Somehow, this seems an apt and unfortunate metaphor for what can be divisive and ugly interactions between Christians in our day. As if there weren’t enough palm fronds to go around. As if Jesus were a limited or scarce commodity. As if my claim on Him meant you couldn’t have Him.
Nope. Today’s palm branches signify the welcome of a humble king and invite a willingness to follow. Wherever He leads us. No one said that Christ-following would be easy, not the least of all Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, knowing for certain what lay ahead. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)
So soon they would ring out, “Crucify him!” (John 19:15)
As we enter into this Holiest of weeks and follow Christ through the most harrowing of circumstances, let us give grateful thanks for His life, His ministry, and the way He made for us to follow. A way that promises abundant life with plenty to share.
Let’s not fight over who gets to wave the palm branch.
A dear friend received a new heart today. Literally
Not a Valentine’s Day heart. Not a sappy, sentimental heart-shaped gift. Neither construction paper cut-out nor “heart”-shaped facsimile, the heart he received was an organ. A life-saving, life-giving organ. This heart is a living, pumping cardiac-muscle of a heart. Sewn into the opening left when they extracted his old heart that wasn’t working well, really it was failing, not strong enough to pump life support to his body that was still young and strong and virile.
Yes, today God replaced his old heart of (nearly) stone with a heart of flesh, and it is beating in his chest right now. Receiving blood, pumping blood, delivering blood continuously, obediently, constantly to all the places in his body that were desperate for it.
Just twenty-four hours ago, this heart was perfectly happy to beat in someone else’s chest. To receive, pump and deliver blood there. What of this? What of these? What of him?
Why must someone die so another might live?
I cannot fathom this. Cannot explain this. Certainly cannot condone this. Yet.
Yet, one man of old did just such a thing. Died, giving Himself up for us. This is my body, for you. This is my blood, for you. This, I will give you. This is what you need. This will give you life.
Day by day, we’re offered a new heart, signed by God. A heart offered without price, save what was paid on the cross.
There for us when we need it. Before we know we need it.
This is no Valentine’s cut-out and no slobbering sentimentality. This is God’s own heart, work horse of our effort, unsung hero of our inner workings, grinding out our days supplying the lifeforce of our very being.
Day in and day out.
Awake and Asleep.
Conscious and unconscious.
So reliable, we don’t even remember it in our prayers.
So trustworthy, we don’t even think to question its methods.
So diligent, we don’t even begin to doubt its lastingness.
Yet, sometimes when we cry out for a new heart, God complies. Our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh, rock of ages past, usurped by flesh and blood. Gift given. Gift received.
And in gratitude, we pray: May the heart of Christ fill the space left behind. May the soul of Christ occupy this void. May the mind of Christ show the way to this generous spirit whose life ended too soon and yet. And yet.
There is life. And in its name, in His name, we rejoice.
Play to your strengths, we say, because that’s how you win.
It’ll win you games, earn you accolades, get you noticed, selected and promoted. And if you can get your opponent to play to your strengths, then you’re golden.
Temporarily. Because favoriting tends to make us lopsided. Have you noticed this, too? When I play to my strong side, my weak side gets left out. Over time, as my strengths get stronger my weaknesses get worse and I have limited my own arsenal. Pretty soon, so my opponent doesn’t discover my weaknesses, I learn to hide them or disguise them in order to diminish their impact.
Unfortunately, the lopsided condition and our self-imposed limitations also leave us prone to injury. Inevitably, we sprain, strain, twist, tear, break or full-on dislocate something. If we’re lucky, after taking time off or perhaps spending some time in repair and/or rehab, we make a come back.
Except now there are left-overs, losses we hope aren’t permanent. Things just don’t feel the same and our bodies know it. They do what they’re used to doing; they compensate. The strong side picks up the slack while the weak side tags along for the ride. It has to — because it’s attached (!) — usually at the expense of form and function, always at the expense of full performance.
Yep. Going with whatever works rather than working on what’s holding us back limits us in the long run. Eventually, there’ll be a painful tip to our stride that’ll only get worse with time. Unless…
… we switch our loyalties and favor our weak side. Humbling though that is. As far behind as that makes us fall. As uncoordinated as that makes us feel. It requires more effort, more intention, more dedication, more practice. It may make us feel like a beginner all over again, but it’ll pay off in the long run because we’re gonna need every part of this whole miraculous body of ours to power us to life’s finish line.
What a race we could run if we stopped playing only to our strengths and gave our weaker parts the respect they deserve. What good advice we’ve been given:
Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. .. God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.from 1 Corinthians 12: 22-25