Eleven years ago Palm Sunday fell on April 1st – April Fools’day. We were in the early stages of forming a new church and spent each Sunday visiting different worshipping communities. That morning we visited a congregation on the North side of Chicago. Arriving 20 minutes before the start of worship, big rainbow letters assure us as we walk toward the imposing stone tower that ALL ARE WELCOME. Climbing the stairs we move quickly to escape the chilly lake breeze, reach for the doors - and find them locked. Confused we shrug our shoulders and turn to leave. A greeter rushes from the side alley and redirects us “Today is Palm Sunday!” He says joyfully, we smile politely, nod and stare at him anticipating that he’ll fill in the blanks because there is something we are obviously missing that he think we already know.
After a very long 20 seconds or so, he says, “You’re new!? Every Palm Sunday we begin in the side-yard and everybody waves palms and we create a parade like they did for Jesus.”
“Cool!” Well, more like cold. It is barely 40, breezy and damp. We stand. We wait - shuffle to keep warm. When the bells chime and announce the top of the hour, the locked doors burst open and the pastors, choir, acolytes, and other leaders file out. Ushers run ahead and first prod us to get out of the way and then to fall in line as they sing and march on by.
The choir and clergy round the corner. Ushers wave us frantically try to herd us while nervous glances pass among those of us who are obviously and quite literally - outsiders.
Strollers, walkers and chairs are lifted by the willing, ready hands of unnamed and unknown strangers. “Be careful, take your time,” someone assures them to reduce their stress and remove their embarrassment as the parade fragments into several segments punctuated by long gaps each marking a point and place where someone struggled to overcome some human hurdle or obvious obstacle.