Today was Passion Sunday, otherwise known as "Palm Sunday". It's always a big day in my congregation, because one of our traditions is a live donkey, who leads the processional from the fellowship hall into the sanctuary. We have huge banners in purple and scarlet as well. At 10:30 the children (all the children, not just the children's choir) lead the processional, all dressed up as if they were living in Jerusalem in Jesus' time.
This year, though, we had our annual Mardi Gras brunch on Palm Sunday. I realize this means it is no longer a Mardi Gras brunch. But we're not quite sure what to call it yet. (We're also not quite sure if this is a new tradition, a blip on the radar screen, or a paradigm shift.) But because of the brunch we couldn't process from the fellowship hall.
So instead we had a dramatic presentation of the Passion Story. It's called "The Cry of the Whole Congregation"; it was published in Walter Wangerin's book Ragman and Other Cries of Faith. It features four narrators, a children's choir, a soloist, a drummer and a liturgical dancer. I organized the readers and rehearsed them.
Today, I didn't have a major part in the worship service.
Except that I played the drum.
The drum beat begins when the crowd cries, "blasphemy!" It continues, varying the speed and intensity until Jesus dies.
In the past, when I didn't play the drums, I thought of it as a heart beat.
I'm not sure if it was exactly that. There's a relentlessness to the beat. Sometimes it feels inexorable, like the "it is necessary" clause in the scriptures: "It is necessary for the son of man to suffer...." Sometimes it feels like the beat of the anger and fear of desperate people trying to preserve the status quo. It's the beat of something set in motion.
I found it a very different experience for me as a pastor. Instead of standing in the spotlight, I was behind the scenes. The gifted people who had rehearsed with me were standing in the spotlight, telling the story with words and music and movements. I was in the back, worrying a little, but keeping the beat.
It's a different image of leadership, at least much different than the ones I have been taught to strive for and embrace.
But I'm convinced that choosing and rehearsing and then standing in the background beating the drum: this is an image of a real leader, too.
Today the dancer moved with the grace of Christ, and the readers spoke with the passion of Christ, and the musicians sang and played with the beauty of Christ.
The drummer kept the tempo.