Saturday, March 26, 2005

Thinking About Last Night's Good Friday Worship

Last night's Good Friday worship at our church was among the most moving and meaningful I've ever experienced.

It wasn't that much different from anything we've done before. We did have new prayers for Jesus' seven last words; our reading of the Passion account was from The Message version of the Gospel of John, chapters 18 and 19, whereas in the past, we've used the New Revised Standard Version; and Kathy, our music director, sang a beautiful song, Your Grace Still Amazes Me as we sat in the then-nearly dark sanctuary. Yet, none of these constitute anything especially earth-shaking.

But God was clearly there and I felt myself drawn to Jesus once again.

It's such an incredible thing to be part of a church family where we get to share Jesus together!

This thought can at times, make me feel incredibly guilty and small when I take Christ and the Church--including this congregation--for granted.

But the truly amazing attribute of God's grace--literally, His charity--is that He willingly takes rebels and ingrates like me and keeps showering us with love. It's humbling!

I feel like the Prodigal Son in Jesus' parable, from whom, the theologian Helmut Thelicke once said, the father squeezed out a confession of sin with a bear hug of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. In spite of our rebellion, God's love precedes, accompanies, and is the sweet aftertaste of our confessions of sin. God never forces Himself on us, but He waits with baited breath for us to turn to Him. God's grace is amazing!

It's also humbling for me to consider what makes a time of worship meaningful. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love words. I'm a communicator. Because of that, the part of my job as a pastor that I like the most is preaching.

But last night, there was no preaching, no pulpit humor, no witty aphorisms, or emphatically-delivered words of wisdom.

Some congregational songs, some prayers, a responsive reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, a soloist singing praise to God, two chapters from John's account of Jesus' crucifixion, and all of us leaving in silence.

That's it.

No balm for my ego, but something more important: an opportunity to take the focus off of me and to put it onto God, where it belongs; a chance to remember with people I care about how desperately God loves us all...enough to go to a cross; a time to sing thankfully to God of His incredible love.

I saw again what a waste of time it can be to try to be "clever" in one's preaching. The story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection--all of which comprise the gospel, the good news that God is for us and offers new life to all who turn from sin and turn to Christ--is all we really need!

None of this is to say that preachers shouldn't work at their craft, delving into Biblical scholarship, striving to connect the Bible's truths with everyday life, and to do all of this in ways that make Christ accessible to people. But I do think that I personally, anyway, need to work and pray toward the goal of getting out of God's way and letting the wonderful message of Christ reach people through me without calling attention to myself.

It seemed to me as I read Eugene Peterson's wonderful paraphrase of John's Passion account last night that neither he, as the writer, or I, as the reader, got between the Bible and the people. Somehow, each person was with Jesus. And that's a lot better than their being with me.

But when we can all be with Jesus together, that is a taste of heaven!

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