Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week - Then and Now

It came as a slow realization, then quickly doing the math in my head, I gasped...okay, today is Palm Sunday, and 45 years ago, I joined the Church on Palm Sunday.

I still remember processing from the back of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Monroe, Louisiana, that spring morning, singing “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” I was wearing a new navy blue nautical dress and a white hat. I stood between Peggy Clay and Kay Bershen; we had been friends since infancy, attending Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes together, not to mention kindergarten, elementary school, birthday parties, play dates, etc. Now as fourth-graders we were being confirmed and joining the church.

My parents, Ben and Nancy Oliphint and my brothers Clayton (holding my dad’s hand) and Stuart and me in front of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, Monroe, Louisiana, circa 1964-65.

I stood in front of the same altar where my parents had presented me for baptism 9 years earlier as a 3- month- old baby. Now, my fellow confirmands and I took the vows and then my father, the pastor, moved down the line of children, stopping in front of each one to recognize them by name and say a word of blessing. When he reached me, his voice cracked with emotion and he hesitated. The congregation laughed nervously. I smiled and looked up at him as he struggled to regain control, his eyes moist with tears.

After the church service, my mother hosted one of her famous home-cooked meals at the parsonage, two blocks down the street from the church. Our district superintendent and wife, Ed and Hallie Hauk, were present. I still remember Hallie’s warm smile and words of encouragement and grace as she spoke of the significance of this day in my life. Then she gave me a beautiful mother-of-pearl heart locket with an over-laid gold cross, a cherished gift I later passed on to my niece and namesake, Erin Brooke, on her confirmation day.

Forty-five years as a member of The United Methodist Church! Taking time to recall those memories of that very special Palm Sunday caused me to reflect further on what church membership has meant to me. And I was overwhelmed as I thought of the joy and privilege of being a member of the Body of Christ, the love and support that has undergirded me in good times and bad, the opportunities for service the Church has graciously given me, the study of God’s word which has both nurtured and challenged my spirit. Can there be anything greater than the Body of Christ loving us on behalf of Christ?

The United Methodist Church has indeed nurtured and shaped me in the faith. I have come to realize that through these 45 years, my understanding of church membership has grown and changed. I no longer think so much in terms of being a member of a church, but of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. As we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, Crucifixion and joyous Resurrection of Easter Sunday, we remember the most dramatic and powerful part of the Jesus story. We remember the saving grace of our Lord, His tremendous sacrifice, His amazing gift of life abundant and life eternal. We remember...and like the crucified thief, ask to be remembered. And in the remembering, we wrestle with the true cost of discipleship.

I enter this Holy Week with prayerful gratitude for my heritage and with a renewed commitment to support our Church with my prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. And I give thanks for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit throughout our church, as I see persons living transformed lives as disciples. I’m thankful for the focus, the passion, the urgency I see expressed in lives lived abundantly as Christ’s disciples. I’m thankful for our church’s mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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