Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made: Reflections on Palm Saturday Children’s Program at Christ Church

Dr. John Jefferson Davis, PhD
Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” That’s the familiar text from the psalm that I often use as a sentence-prayer and focus for meditation when I am driving in the car, waiting in line, or early in the morning just after waking up. Before this morning, I had customarily used the prayer as a way of thanking God for the new day even if, as is typically the case in New England in early spring, the “day” is a dreary, overcast, cold, and rainy one – This is the day the Lord has chosen to make; might as well rejoice and be glad in it – anyway.

But this Saturday morning a new layer of meaning emerged: about 7:20 am, as I went to the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee, looking forward to quiet hour or so of undisturbed time reading my Bible and prayer and meditation, I heard the bump-bump-bump sound of my grandchildren’s footsteps coming down the stairways from the upstairs bedroom – looking for grandpa. (They were here for a three-week visit from their home in Sonoma Valley, California.) It suddenly dawned on me that this was the day and the type of morning the Lord had planned for me; I was to have an opportunity to have “morning devotions” and “practicing the presence of God” not through reading biblical texts, but by spending time with my grandchildren Hadley and Lincoln.

My wife Robin asked me, “How would you like to take the kids this morning over to the church for the Palm Saturday children’s program that runs from 9 to 1 – games, crafts, Bible stories, and lunch?” My initial reaction was honestly a bit mixed, as I saw God rearranging my typical expectation of morning “quiet time” devotions. I said, “Sure,” and soon we had arrived at the church for a very busy and more meaningful morning than I could have planned for myself.

Gifts Differing:

We went into the beautiful Christ Church chapel with its lovely stained-glass windows and English country church architecture, and the 35 or so kids – aged 2 to about 7, I suppose – sat more or less quietly on the floor while Betsy Retallack charmed them with songs and choruses on her guitar and bongo drum, after which Andrea Kelly held their attention for an amazing ten minutes with a flannel-graph story about the events of Holy Week. As I saw this I said to myself, “I could never do this – I am so glad that God has gifted these women so clearly for the children’s ministry they are doing.” Jesus had said, “Let the little children come to me, and forbid them not” – but how often do we (male) “ministers” not give serious attention and thought to such ministries aimed at the very young. “How important it is,” I mused, “to give the kids a positive impression of church and the faith when ‘the brick is still soft.’”

Low Tech, High Tech:

By the way, don’t let the reference to “flannel graph” put you off – this “low tech” approach to Bible teaching was more effective than any Powerpoint or video presentation I could imagine. The simple but artistically well-done figures appealed to the children’s imagination in a way that the more “literal” character of other media could not. In the media-saturated and over-stimulated environment in which our children are growing up, sometimes “less is more” and “low tech” can be better than “high tech.” It was a good reminder to be more attentive to the types of technology that we use in the church.

Fly on the Wall:

The program continued in the church hall: craft tables with Palm Sunday “icons” painted on wood; crosses weaved from palm branches; decorated candles for Holy Week; Bible stories from Holy Week acted out – real foot-washing by the kids, for example – snacks, games, and finally lunch. I enjoyed being a “fly on the wall” and grandparent and helper, rather than “seminary professor”. “Jack,” said Jennifer, who was doing the story, could you get me a pan of warm water for the foot washing? This one is a bit too cold for the kids.” “Sure,” I said, and Jack ran off to the kitchen to fetch a pan of water.

So my alternative “morning devotions” continued, but in a different and really more meaningful way that morning. Even as Jennifer retold the familiar story of Jesus’s cry of dereliction from the cross – “My God, my God – Why have you forsaken me” – and said, “For the first time in his life Jesus felt separated from his Father” – that profound statement struck me with new force. “Morning devotions” had “happened” again.

It occurred to me as the morning went on that every seminarian and pastor should take the time to be a “fly on the wall” in his or her own church, observing as a helper or parent every aspect of the life of the church, from the crib nursery to youth group to children’s ministries – from “A to Z”, so to speak. It just might turn out to be more valuable spiritually and professionally in the long run than that morning cup of coffee and “quiet time” that you had planned.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it.

Palm Saturday, April 4, 2009

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