Sunday, April 5, 2015
Orthodox Palm Sunday
I will never forget one of my first experiences of worship in the Orthodox Church. It was a Syrian/Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania, OH, and I thought I had come prepared for what I was about to experience. Had my Bible, my trusty notebook (that I still carry around to this day), and I was ready to drill the priest or anyone else who asked with a battery of biblical objections to what I presumed in advance would be idolatry. What I was not prepared for was an argument from a wordless two year old, toddling next to me in church. He was busy staring open-mouthed in wonder at a larger-than-life icon of St. Anthony the Great of the Desert. In a matter of seconds, I put my book away and decided that the two-year old was getting something that I was missing. For just as the babes and sucklings in today’s feast, his open mouth was already beginning to perfect the praise worthy of Almighty God.
I have been in churches most of my life. Prior to coming to the Orthodox Church, I had an intimate knowledge of not less than 15 different Christian traditions, and in all that experience I had never witnessed such reverent awe from a little child. These were the folks that were usually tucked safely away in some nursery waiting to reach the age of accountability when they could finally join the adults who were doing something important upstairs. But here was this two-year old who instead of tearing around the church and ripping up hymnals was teaching me the Kingdom of Heaven. And in my discovery of the Holy Orthodox Church, I was beginning to see many other things that were not only kid-friendly, but actually centered around children and their guileless innocence. The children in today’s feast were the stars of the show, as their pudgy arms grabbed every branch, twig, and tunic to use in ushering the Lord into Jerusalem. While the important pharisees plotted his arrest and eventual crucifixion, pure-hearted sucklings set a truer example of worship.
When Jesus said, “Let the children come unto me and forbid them not,” he was not just talking about giving them a twaddle-filled children’s sermon and then sending them onto Sunday School. I think he was inviting them to be firstborn citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, made one with Him by their constant reception of His body and blood. A church that baptizes her infants but does not commune them until they reach some artificial accountability age not only misses the point of the Baptism, but starves her youngest and most vulnerable members of the medicine of immortality. Indeed, the grace of the Holy Spirit that has gathered us together wants not just adults, but especially children to proclaim:
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!