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Palm Sunday, 2012

A mid-size Baptist church in the Midwest

It is the first Sunday of the month. The time is 11:52 AM.  The senior pastor places the communion elements into the waiting hands of those designated to serve the congregation. The servers, male and female, bear God’s image as they reverently carry the bread and the cup into the four corners of the darkened sanctuary.

The woman in the front row bows her head, steadies her heart, and stands. She usually receives communion from the servers who stand to the left of the platform only a few feet from where she sits. But this time she feels a compulsion to cross the aisle and receive the elements from the smiling couple she knows from her committee work.

She takes the bread, dips into the chalice. Hears the familiar words of remembrance spoken lovingly over her bowed head by those who know her name. Lifts her countenance to receive their smiling blessing.

And then something odd.

The woman turns left down the long aisle towards the back of the silent church, away from her customary spot in the front pew. As she walks, she wonders Why am I doing this? I should have simply returned to my seat. Now I have to walk the long way around to get back to the pew with my handbag.

It’s then that she sees her. The small figure of a young woman hunched over on the floor in the back corner of the sanctuary, head buried, slender arms encircling knees pointed upwards like hands in prayer. She’s praying, surely, or crying perhaps? Either way, best left in privacy to do her business with God.

The older woman slips slowly, respectfully past. And then stops. She heard something – a request, a command even. Those lining up near her to receive the elements along the back wall seem oblivious. But the call was clear.

Go to her. Now. This moment.

She hesitates a fraction of a second, turns back, obeys. Her knees don’t bend as easily as they once did but she sinks down, lays an arm gently across the young woman’s bowed back. Whispers, “Are you all right?”

The girl looks up, startled, nodding. Satisfied, the woman slowly walks the long way back to her seat, praise music swelling, heart at peace.

Ten minutes later.

A crowded foyer.  Worshipers pour forth through the doors and emerge into the April sunlight, blinking, fed.

The woman turns to fetch her coat but her way is suddenly blocked by a younger woman with an unfamiliar face.

“You are the one.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“My name is Megan. I’ve been struggling recently. I need to hear from God. I got myself as low as I could in the sanctuary and I asked Him to come near me.

Eyes shining, lips curving upwards.

“I begged for His touch, and an instant later I felt an arm on my back. I know it was God answering me. Thank you.”

The older woman drew in her breath, gave her first name, exchanged information. Amid children waving palms she had come to church for a word from God too.

What was it Jesus said once? I am going away to the one who sent me, but I will send you a Comforter.”

A pledge spoken on the night he was betrayed. A  Palm Sunday promise repeated 2000 years later.  A divine directive whispered in an ordinary church in Wheaton, Illinois.

     Go to her.

Yes, Lord.

     This very moment.

All right, Lord.

     And I will comfort her.

You did, Lord.

And He comforted me, too.

“Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing…

Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

I, yes I, am the one who comforts you.” Isaiah 51:11-12 NLT