Well friends, Holy Week is almost upon us, and my dear Westfield shows no signs of slowing down (which, really, is super!). This week in particular has been a whirlwind. It started last Sunday with a FULL day of church and visits. I left the house for church that morning a little before 8:3o and finally returned to settle in around 6:30 pm. I will say this: wearing a clerical collar to the hospital might get you a few looks, but it absolutely gets your questions answered. The regular work week was filled with meetings, worship planning, and a few birthday surprises from dear, dear church folks who anticipated how difficult spending your birthday away from lifelong friends would be.
Needless to say that this week, I was relieved for an altarscape that was simple. In our last conversation about altarscapes, I offered this tidbit of advice:
One of my preaching professors in seminary had this advice: preach one sermon. Each scripture or story carries multiple sermons that we could preach. Choose one. Likewise, when thinking about visuals, there’s lots of different themes, images, or ideas we could use as the base for our altarscape. Sometimes, the best thing to do is this: pick one.
This week, we’re stripping away all the fancy and relying on a single, simple object–a palm. Not five palms, not seven. This week, the central item on our altar will be a single palm.
I think a single palm is most effective for a couple of reasons: (1) Holy Week is a time when we’ve got a lot going on. While there’s one central message, we’re telling that message in a lot of different ways. I think it’s helpful to tell it directly with a bold, simple symbol. (2) At Westfield, our children will be processing in with palms, our congregation will have palms AND we’ve got two seven-foot tall bamboo palm trees on the pulpit platform that are just stunning. Simply put, we’re gonna have enough palms elsewhere. We don’t need them on the altar.
I don’t have a picture of the palm on the altar from Westfield because our palms haven’t come in yet. But what I can show you is an example from my last church, Loganville First. It’s a different altar and sanctuary, but the idea remains the same. Our stone tile we’ve been using each week becomes a road–the road to Jerusalem. And on that road lies a singe palm. At once we are reminded of the wilderness we’ve been traveling through and the wilderness ahead. The palm–a sign of triumph, of life means one thing to us this week on Palm Sunday, and something different next week when the Easter sun peeks over the hills. In the words of one Easter hymn:
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.