Summary: This is an original story sermon, inspired by the "news from Lake Wobegon", with some serious reflection about what Palm Sunday meant for Jesus and for us.
The Palms of Hope…Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Michael Harris was the long-time pastor of Hope Community Church, a modest congregation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the small town of Paradise. It hadn’t looked much like Paradise for a very long time. It had been an especially brutal winter, and all the snowbirds who were fed up with Michigan winters had departed from the “frozen chosen” and escaped to their Florida retreats for refuge. The faithful remained, cold but determined. In spite of the frigid weather, Easter was approaching, and with it the promise of new life and spring. Pastor Mike was looking forward to a warmer climate and a fuller church. Not only would his winter escapees return, he could usually count on vacationing tourists to stop in for worship.
Palm Sunday was only a week and a half away, and while thinking about his sermon, a troubling thought occurred to Pastor Mike--the palms hadn’t arrived! “Could that really be? They’ve got to be around here somewhere!” He went into the secretary’s office, then down to the basement, and then to all those areas palms might have been placed out of the way. After a thorough search, he was sure they hadn’t been delivered. “We’ve got to have those palms!” he thought. So he got on the phone to his church supplier. The Peninsula Religious Supply Administrative Assistant checked her computer and said there was no record of any invoice. “I’m sure we called in our annual order,” Pastor Mike insisted. “How are we going to have Palm Sunday without palms?” The administrator said she’d do what she could, but couldn’t guarantee anything. Pastor Mike hung up, and wondered what to do next. “Maybe the Sunday School classes could make some palms out of paper? Then everyone would think we’re either cheap or incompetent, or both.”
After putting down the phone with the church supplier, the phone rang. It was the Children’s Choir director, Miss Audrey. “Pastor Mike, I just wanted you to know that we’re planning to have the children process down the aisle on Palm Sunday singing “Hosanna to the Son of David” while waving their palm branches. It’ll look just like the procession of people who greeted Jesus outside of Jerusalem” (“Except,” Pastor Mike thought, “those people actually had palms!”). “OK, Audrey, I’m looking forward to seeing that,” and he set down the phone.
The phone rang again. This time it was Pastor Mike’s wife Judy. “Mike, several people have been asking me if we’re going to have the Sunrise Service at Whitefish Bay again. Last year we all nearly got frostbite.” “Judy, are you one of those ‘people’?” “Well Mike, if we do go outside, I’m wearing two pairs of long underwear under my Easter dress.” Pastor Mike recalled their memorable trip to Israel, where even in Winter it was quite comfortable. He doubted if long underwear was ever part of Jewish or Roman attire over there.
He then started calling other churches in town. The ministers in town were sympathetic, and while most could spare a few branches, it clearly wasn’t going to be enough. In spite of lower attendance in the Winter, Hope Community could always count on a good turnout on Palm Sunday; the sanctuary would be reasonably full. And everyone would be expecting a palm branch.
Pastor Mike was growing more and more frustrated. “It’s not fair! People living in Southern California and Florida have palms all over. For us, they’re highly exotic! Maybe those places should be forced to have Weeping Willow Sunday to see what we in the frozen north have to go through!” He then started to pray…which is what he should have done first. He told God about his dilemma, and in the process of asking God to somehow fix this problem, a thought came to him…which may have been the start of an answer. “We can have Palm Sunday without palms, but we can’t have it without Jesus. And He will be here with us, regardless of what happens.”
He then thought of his Florida flock and another idea came to him. He picked up the phone and started making long-distance calls to the snowbirds. Most weren’t in. Unlike most homebound Michiganders, who remained inside to stay warm, these Winter Floridians were out and about, enjoying blue skies and short-sleeve weather. Some were likely attending Spring Training, cheering on the Detroit Tigers. Pastor Mike finally got through to Jim Cunningham, a member of his Board of Trustees, who was wintering in Tampa.
Jim was pleased and surprised to hear from Pastor Mike. “So Pastor, are you calling to see if I’ve been mailing in my pledge envelopes? Hey, is it still snowing up there?” Pastor Mike could hear the smile in Jim’s voice. “I have a real problem, Jim. Our palms for Palm Sunday haven’t arrived, and I was hoping you might gather some and Fed-Ex them to us.”