The children walked down the aisle with the palm branches waving. The Chancel Choir led them in the processional, but all eyes were on the children. They were smiling and squiggling and squirming around, but when it came their turn to sing, their voices were perfect. The children joined the mighty organ, the brass and percussion sections, the full choir and made the music even more beautiful.
I briefly wondered who Jesus would be focused on at that moment. The children, I am sure. I also thought of my own childhood and the memories of Easter past.
We celebrated Palm Sunday in the church of my childhood, but I do not ever remember having palm branches in the service. As a small child, I remember Easter as a time that we had to dress up in our finest and take pictures in front of Grandmother Catherine’s azaleas. They seemed to always be in full bloom at Easter and I have dozens of pictures to prove it.
After moving to Donalsonville, my Easter memories evolved with our own changing family. My grandfather loved to buy Easter dresses for our two daughters, the frillier the better. That is about the time I was first introduced to actual palm leaves on the Sunday before Easter, along with Maundy Thursday services.
Most of the Presbyterians in Donalsonville would remember the cross built by Bob McLeod which was placed before the altar on Easter. The children would bring the finest blooms from their yard and transform the cross from wood to colorful flowers. There are probably thousands of pictures of generations of children in front of that simple cross adorned with beautiful blossoms, built as a labor of love by a godly man.
I remember my sister in her Easter bonnet, and how my own two daughters hated wearing their own hats. There is something about little girls dressing up at Easter. As for my brother and myself, you can tell from those old photos how much we enjoyed getting dressed up.
This past Sunday, the Auburn United Methodist Church choir sang “The Holy City”. I probably played that beautiful tune thirty times over during my time as the organist in Donalsonville. It is beautiful whether sung simply or with fanfare. More than any other piece of music, it prepares me for Easter Sunday.
All through this past Sunday service, I experienced a flood of memories. I remembered the great meals we had with family. The Easter egg hunts evolved from hand colored eggs to plastic ones filled with candy and money. Those memories now stretch from my great-grandparents to my own grandchildren.
This Easter Sunday, my wife, children, and grandchildren will all sit in the same pew for Easter. I am not sure that has happened since there were ten of us. I think of all my own memories and have a hope that this Easter will be a lasting memory for my own descendants.
Some would say that the church has changed over the years, with many complaining that church is not like it was in their own memories. I suppose that is why there are so many churches today. We cannot seem to agree, yet our hearts seem to be in the same place.
My own heart is full as Easter approaches with the knowledge that I not only have so many great memories, but more importantly, I am the recipient of so many promises. Those promises of eternal life have never wavered, even as the church has. Those promises are more important as I grow older and as I watch my family expand.
I will not focus on all that divides the Christian world, including my own background as a Baptist, Presbyterian, and a Methodist. Instead, I will rejoice in all that binds us. I will think of Jesus on the cross, His death and resurrection, and His promise to those that follow Him.
I will also think of all those that are different from me. God’s love is so grand that I cannot comprehend how it embraces those like me, different from me, even nothing like me. God’s love is not limited. Ours may be, but not the love of our Heavenly Father.
Embrace the celebration of Easter. Let the Holy Spirit surround you as you surround yourself with those you love. Listen and let the familiar music fill your soul with joy. Hear the miraculous story of Easter and remember that it is meant for you.
The memories and the promises of Easter. Our greatest gift from God.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org