With Holy Week approaching, I’ve been thinking about how fortunate it is to grow up in a family of faith, whatever religion we’re introduced to. As children we hear “Easter” and we think: bunny, candy, dress clothes. As adults we hear “Easter” and we think “faith.”
For adults, when Palm Sunday arrives, all you have to do is hear the opening notes on the church organ to know that every child in the congregation is about to come into the sanctuary waving palm branches high in the air (as high as they can) while everyone sings:
“Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang, through pillared court and temple,
the lovely anthem rang. To Jesus, who had blessed them close folded to his breast,
the children sang their praises, the simplest and the best.“
Seeing smiling children take their roles so seriously in this ritual reminds me how our parents introduce us to faith through holy days we celebrate each year. In Sunday School we learn stories behind Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then, the big day, Easter. In church we see how adults practice their faith. For youngsters, that’s a lot to process, but somehow we manage.
I remember, sitting in church with my parents, I was reminded of why I could have faith in a God I couldn’t see or hear. My parents also taught me, outside of church, that different people have different faith journeys, and that respect is due to all who follow the paths where they find strength. We walk your walk with you, and we have faith that even after the darkest days you experience, that our journey together will give you comfort for the future.
May we smile back at each child marching up and down the aisles in church this weekend. They’re learning who and how to believe among the adults they can see, and in a higher power whom they can’t but might be able to feel surround them. Let us all remember to help one other find our way, together.
Now in adulthood, how do you remember Easter as a child? Aside from the ‘bunny’ and a basket of candy, was it wearing your “Sunday best” to church, a very large choir and an extremely full church singing songs of praise? I remember it was where I learned my faith in a God I couldn’t see or hear. You had to believe in what you couldn’t see.
This Palm Sunday so many area churches will be using the lessons found in Zechariah 9:9 (KJV), which reads: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O duaghter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”
When I was young, of course, all I thought about was how hard it had to be to ride a donkey. Certainly not lithe and sleek like a horse, it seemed like the donkey is an animal that does not get much respect. As I grew up and studied history, I learned that donkeys, mules, and horses were all used in World War I and World War II as they could carry soldiers, and especially ammunition that was needed. I gained more respect for donkeys immediately, despite childhood when we don’t give them much credit.
It’s that way in life too. When we are young, we rely entirely on our elders–parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends–to teach us about faith. We don’t know what that is until we see it being modeled. We, then, as children were always watching to see how people of faith presented themselves to us. From some we learned how to have faith. From others, we learned in spite of their examples.
Think about the number of times we perceive people to be “pillars of their worlds” because we see outward symbols of success, like the car they drive, the suit they wear, or how they carry themselves in public. The image of Jesus riding in to Jerusalem, dressed in the simplest of clothing, riding the humblest of animals has never left my mind. No one who didn’t understand his life as a young prophet, who was known to be the son of God, would have given a single thought to his life, his future, or what he’d done in a very young lifetime of thirty-three years. How much are we today like that same crowd who would watch his crucifixion and observe the loss of (then) hope for humanity and the afterlife in this world?
Circumstances and attitude shifts find us as adults in asking people to “show us” that what they say is real. We have faith in our adult family and friends, until we see that they have not spoken the truth. We as humans need to believe “in” someone and something that is not of this world so that there will always be hope that things will get better. The entire attitude of optimism that many of us feel fortunate to have as part of “who we are” comes from hope. Hope comes from faith.
Children who lose parents early in life face a choice, often far too young for them to have an ability to choose best for themselves. They either focus on the loss, the no longer here nature of our loved ones, and it doesn’t matter where they are after that, possibly in the anger of loss and the lack of faith in ever seeing them again. Or, children can hear from others that this life is not all there is, that one day in the future, we will all be reunited with those whom we loved here and those who are no longer with us at this time. The more you hope, the stronger your faith is, perhaps. I like to think of it as hope grows into faith, but without faith, there could be no hope.
I just can’t get the image of children waving palm fronds to disappear. The looks on their faces are always priceless. Some of those children will grow to be ministers, teachers, leaders, and friends and future family to us. When they are smiling at you, be sure to smile back. Believe “with” them and in them. Keep the faith this Holy Week, and it will last all the way through Easter, and the promise of resurrection will last all the way through until we reach Christmas. And the circle of life will once again be complete.