Palm Sunday 2013: The Countdown

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by space travel.  Rockets, the Space Shuttle, cockpits full of switches and lights, the vehicle on the pad with steam swirling around, the countdown. The countdown to a launch was one of the most exciting things I knew––the waiting, the anticipating, the high-stakes, high-energy drama about to play out. And the closer the countdown got to zero, the more excitement grew. The intensity of the launch itself, with its powerful sounds and piercing light and speed and danger, was like an inevitable climactic release of all the energy of the countdown’s building anticipation.

Palm Sunday is that moment in the life of Jesus when the countdown got to the really exciting part. The countdown hadn’t just begun; much earlier in the story, the gospel writers told us that Jesus was headed for this week, for this encounter with the Powers-That-Be in the capital of the religious empire. And it’s easy to not feel the energy of the countdown for much of it. Hitting the ‘T-minus 3 days’ point in the countdown to a shuttle launch is not a particularly charged moment, but ‘T-minus 20 seconds’ is.

In the long journey of renewal I’m on with my congregation, today feels like the ‘T-minus one minute’ moment in the countdown to launch. We have come a long way in the past few months (and in the 2 years before) to arrive at this Palm Sunday. Much has happened in my soul and in the souls of the folks who make up Broad Ripple UMC. Much work has been done on the building (we’re remodeling our sanctuary and main common areas, due to be finished by next Sunday). Much time has been spent in the ‘wilderness’ in Lent as we have fasted from our own Sunday morning worship practice. All the while, the countdown timer quietly ticked away in the background: T-minus 3 days. T-minus 32 hours. T-minus 8 hours, 27 minutes. T-minus 12 minutes, 34 seconds.

Today is T-minus one minute. It’s not time to launch yet, but the boarding arm has swung away from the shuttle and the umbilicals have disconnected and the vehicle is standing there on the pad, ready to fly. It’s time to make specific decisions and actually do what I’ve been imagining and talking about and dreaming for months (well, years, actually). Time to make aspirations into reality, specifically around worship. We will be reorienting the physical expression of our worship service because the space will be different. Now is the time to introduce some new elements. It’s time to redesign our worship bulletin. It’s time to figure out what I’m actually going to say when the Big Day comes next weekend.

This is a moment of two intertwined emotions for me: joy and fear. They are familiar companions, these two. They arrive together at exciting times in life of all sorts: the big musical solo, putting up the final free-throw, racing, white-water rafting, giving a speech, that first romantic moment with a new love, finally telling the truth about something you’ve been hiding, childbirth. Joy and fear live together in excitement.

These two companion emotions are one of the ways I have learned to recognize I’m following God’s lead into stretching myself, that I’m following into a realm in which I must trust God at a new level. When I am feeling joy and fear at the same time, especially in my work, I’m learning to notice that I’m often stretching just beyond my sense of competency to try to be part of God doing something great. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t particularly enjoy this sense of high-energy fear. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. But I am learning to value it, because it’s part of growing beyond what I’ve known before.

I’m feeling it today as I’m reminded that between now and a week from now, our congregational fast will end and we’ll celebrate Easter in our new space together. Our next chapter as a congregation will begin. And I have a big role in facilitating that experience. I feel the weight of that responsibility. I feel fear about making the myriad decisions that need to be made between now and then. The arrangement of the chairs & the placement of the communion table. The hymns. The lights. The language in the bulletin. The sermons (there will be 4 between now and a week from now!). I feel fear about the fact that I’ve been anticipating this new way for so long; what if it isn’t so great? What if people don’t come? What if, after all this, nothing’s really different?

And, mixed right in with all that fear, I feel tremendous joy. There’s a deep part of my soul that knows without any doubt that God is up to something significant within us, among us, and, in time, through us. I’m quite certain there’s nothing I’d rather be doing with my life than this. I feel like this is where I belong in the world. That’s joyful!

I’ve come to the conclusion that this mix of joy and fear is inevitable when using my gifts in joining God’s purpose, because there’s inevitable risk and vulnerability in being used by God for God’s purposes. There are plenty of days I fantasize about an easier way of life, but I wouldn’t trade this joy for anything.

I believe that God calls every one of us beyond the limits of what’s comfortable into the greatness implanted in each of us when we were created. And I am grateful.