As soon as I walked in, I saw the seniors were already seated. The usher directed me to a side door and told me that we were all meeting downstairs first. When I reached the basement, I saw the crowd was 150 people and growing! At the front of the room was the priest standing next to a fold-out table already covered in palm leaves. Just to the side of the priest, was a small choir and a piano player leading the room in song. Amongst the crowd there were many people, but the one who stood out to me was a tall middle-aged heavy-set tough-looking guy and his (roughly) eight year-old son (who clearly takes after his dad). There were two things that stood about about this man, that makes him worth writing about:
#1- He was wearing a washed-out green sweatshirt with the word "TEXAS" scrawled across it. Simply confirming that Edmonton, Alberta is truly, the Houston, Texas of Canada.
#2- He was so happy, he was nearly crying...... I watched him standing there holding his son. I am not sure if it was the joy of the holiday, or the pride of seeing his child participate in the palm ritual, but clearly whatever was going on meant A LOT to the guy.
Of the many life lessons I have learned in this whole process, is that you can't judge a book by it's cover.
Eventually the choir stopped and the priest said a few words. He opened the Bible and read the The Triumphal Entry from the book of Luke. They blessed the palms with holy water at which point the the crowd approached. As they attempted to select their palm branch, quickly and carefully, in order to not hold others up (needless to say, the whole process felt painfully clumsy).
After receiving their palm branches, the Church members then progressed up the stairs to the front sidewalk, walked slightly around the building, and then re-entered the church through the main front doors. Then we took our seats.
There was a very diverse age and cultural mix at this service. Even for such a large church, it was nearly full! But all and all, I am not surprised. There are a lot of Christians that "come out of the wood work" for major holidays. So therefore one could only guess what the numbers and demographics look like for an average Sunday. I consider this to be a significant factor for any church I happen to visit during any major Christian holiday.
After the first song, the children all assembled near the front of the church, and then the whole church reached out their arms in their direction, and then sang a short song to bless them before sending them off to Sunday school.
There was a reading from Isaiah and then was sang, what I think is probably the saddest song I have encountered yet. This song is entitled "God why have you forsaken me?". The name sums it up well.
Then the priest, with the participation of others, read through the whole Passion (aka Christ's betrayal, conviction and execution) .
I still can not help but be surprised the things I thought I knew about the Bible and its stories. As children, religious or secular, it is not unusual for us to be familiar with the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt or Joseph and the rainbow coloured coat. But those stories that we are told as children are small, condensed shrunk down, simplified, PG-rated versions compared to the originals.
But we are big kids now, with alarm-clocks, mortgages, and frosted over windshields (welcome to Canada). And now it is time for us to know, read the original and unrated versions of these stories. To tell you the truth, I have never even read the whole passion out of the Bible until this day. I was surprised by two things:
#1- Apparently Jesus started sweating blood?
Link- Why did Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane?
#2- Apparently there was a solar eclipse on the day he was crucified or "the land went dark"? Reading into this, I have found there is a lot of arguments over what this all was about. Some say it was an eclipse, some say it was impossible, and some say it was all metaphorical! Regardless, it is a cool topic and I suggest reading into it!
But if all that is not enough for you, there was also an earthquake.... yes, an earthquake.
Link- Geological Study May Indicate Earthquake Described by Matthew
Quotes of the day!
"He will not be one with power the normal sense."
* the priest pointed out that this is a consistent theme with the messiah.
"It is God's word that will change the world."
In the midst of all this I faced a dilemma. I was clearly sick, with a head cold straight out of the depths of hell. It was discussing and torturous. And now I was expected to go up and accept communion which meant drinking out of the same cup that over 100 people were going to drink out of! Sad to say I simply could not do it with a clear conscience. So despite it being against the norm in this particular church, I opted to take my wafer and dip it in the cup of wine to be able to complete the ritual without endangering others.
For any of the well church-ed or germophobic people out there, I know you have also faced this issue in the past. The Church leaders I have heard address this issue in the past, have pretty much said "Its fine" and "Get over it and just do it!"
*not to say that all Church leaders would/and or have responded that way.
When I was attending a Ukrainian Orthodox summer camp we were expected to "venerate" or kiss an icon image of Christ as part of entering the church. Some campers raised the issue of spreading illness via this ritual (especially in a summer camp of +100 kids where some one ALWAYS brings strep throat). The priest at that time assured us that it was safe, and that all the icons were regularly cleaned with Windex.
And for those of you that get the joke, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is coming out!
Link- My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - Official Trailer (HD)
While I was standing in the line up for communion, I saw that many people were nicely dressed. Considering it was a major Christian holiday, one would almost think it is appropriate. But for as minor of a detail as it is I have to take a moment to question if it was appropriate. I only say this because of one particular man I saw in a very large church. He was also standing in line for communion, but he was clearly different. He was in his 50's, a little shorter then average, and slightly hunched over, wearing work boots, washed out jeans, a navy blue hoodie. He was clutching his bunch of palms, along with his work gloves, tightly to his chest, as he approached the front of the church to receive communion. We all came in our "Sunday Best". He came in what he had.
I am sure he got his share of odd looks.
It is people like this man that make me stop and remember, one of Christ's most important teachings when he said "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16.
I think we all might do a little better to keep that in mind, if we are to achieve a more considerate and accepting world.
On a final note there were a few announcements, including the carpet replacement that would soon be happening inside the church. The speaker noted that they have "viewed over 100 carpet samples", and will be taking careful consideration to coordinate with the lighting and the wood inside the building. They also asked for the opinion and input of others on their final choice.
There were also announcements of the foot washing that would be happening on Thursday. Along with pamphlet at the front explaining commonly asked questions and the churches official statement on the Canadian government's new policies on assisted suicide.
This is one of the city's older churches and I am sure by looking at it, that Jesus and Joseph would have really enjoyed the interior. This place bring out the "inner carpenter".