I know how it’s supposed to go: you save the palms from Palm Sunday, maybe stick a few in the Easter bouquet, and then store them for a good ten months until burning them for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service. As I did just a few weeks ago.
The palm leaves were good and dry, as opposed to the year before when we couldn’t find any of the old ones and tried microwave a few leaves off the decorative palm tree in the parlor to dry them out enough so we could burn them into ashes. Some friendly advice: don’t try this at home, at church, or anywhere. It doesn’t work. Besides, your local Catholic supply store will have ashes for you.
This year I was prepared for the beginning of Lent. On Fat Tuesday I brought my nice, dry, dead palm leaves home and gathered up a metal bowl, some matches, and a pitcher of water (just in case.) I went to the concrete slab out back, put the leaves in the bowl, and dropped the lighted match.
It was so cool, watching the flames lick the leaves, starting off small and almost going out only to burst out. I decided to do it again, and to film it with my trusty phone. It was so much fun I did it a third time, and now have ashes enough to last me for the next decade.
I posted the video of the leaves burning because I found the image mesmerizing, especially in slow motion. And then I got to thinking about Pentecost, because who doesn’t think about Pentecost on Fat Tuesday? There was something holy about the the small tentative flame seeking something to catch fire to, then growing, then growing so much as the breeze picked up that I worried it might get out of control, then dying down, then turning the leaves to mere gray husks that fell apart with a tiny breath.
Do the flames of Pentecost die down by Ash Wednesday? Does the Spirit grow to an alarming rate, only to leave behind the dregs of what she touched eleven months later?
God’s time is not as linear as we might like. There are births in Lent, and flames on Christmas. There is death at Easter, and ash on Pentecost. The whole liturgical calendar is simply a construct, a way to help us remember that God’s Spirit ebbs and flows, or at least our recollection of it does.
Here we are, in the middle of Lent, and the daffodils are already blooming where I live. Easter is so early this year that some of my friends will be putting their lilies out in the snow. Nature has her own timeline, of course, and occasionally she and the liturgical calendar dance in step, only to have a falling out, and we are left with Easter bunnies hopping over snow drifts and the solemnity of Lent marked by audacious daphne and crocuses. Heck, we even sang a few alleluias in worship last week.
Maybe all time and all seasons, natural or human made, are hallowed. Time belongs to God; it is we who made the calendar.