Today I stood in snow on a hill in Graefenburg, KY and watched palm branches burn with my friend John Morrow. It was a new experience for me. I think it was for him too.
Why would we do such a thing? Well, Ash Wednesday is March 5 and there is a church tradition not too well known among Southern Baptists concerning palm branches of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. You see, during the Palm Sunday worship service in 2013, several children entered the Graefenburg Baptist Church sanctuary carrying palm branches. After the service, I collected those branches and kept them in my church office. I was waiting until today, March 4 of 2014, when I would burn those branches and use the ash for placing a cross on the foreheads of believers during an Ash Wednesday worship service. Realizing that I didn’t really have a suitable place to burn a bunch of palm branches, I called John Morrow (as I am prone to do when I need to do pretty much anything I don’t know how to do) and he quickly agreed to help me out.
So there we were, watching these palm branches go up in smoke. John has been worshiping at Graefenburg Baptist Church his entire life. He was baptized there. He has grown up there. He became a leader there. He raised his family there. John has seen many good pastors come and go. He has seen God do some wonderful things. John has a farm, buys pigs, drives tractors, and does a whole lot of things that leave me in the dark. I wouldn’t know how to turn on a tractor.
And I am standing next to him watching the fire. I’m working toward my third year as pastor of GBC. He knows way more about the history of the church and the lives who have been impacted by its ministry. In my spare time I enjoy playing guitar, visiting theme parks, watching horror movies, reading historical theology, and chasing after my kids pretending to be a giant.
In so many ways, John Morrow and I are worlds apart. But not really.
We both watched the branches burn. And at that moment I was reminded of something pretty special. We are the same.
There was a time when John and I were dead branches. But not anymore.
There was a time when John and I had no life in us. But not anymore.
There was a time when John and I were destined for fire. But not anymore.
There was a time when John and I served no purpose. But not anymore.
There was a time when John and I were marked by sin. But not anymore.
We were the same then. But we are also the same now because…
There was a time when John and I were saved by grace. And that’s forevermore.
That’s what I was thinking while burning palm branches with John Morrow.