Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Today I did something I don't usually do. I went to church.

Well, what I mean is, I went to church where I wasn't the preacher. I don't often do that.

And I did something else I don't usually do. I attended a very traditional, liturgical service in an Episcopal church.

And what a moving service it was.

It was the Good Friday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. The written prayers were beautiful. We read Psalm 22 out loud together. Scripture readers read from Isaiah 53 and from John's account of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion. There was standing and kneeling, and singing a very mournful hymn with no instrumental accompaniment.

This is not my usual style of worship. But on this day, it spoke to me. Deeply.

As did the priest's sermon. She quoted the old hymn, "Were you there?" and asked, "If you had been there when Jesus fed the 5000, would you have given up your 5 loaves and 2 fish--if they were all you had to eat? Would you hand them over and trust God to provide?"

Sitting there in that darkened sanctuary, I had to admit that my honest answer was no.

She asked, "If you had been there when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, would you have turned over a table yourself, or would you have run and hid?"

I thought about it. If I'm honest--I would have run and hid.

She asked, "If you had been there when Jesus was put on trial would you have put yourself at risk to stand up for him?"

Again. My honest answer is no.

My devotion for this morning quoted Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." I realized during this Good Friday service that I have a long way to go before that statement is true for me.

And I wanted to weep.

They did something I'd never seen before. They brought a large wooden cross down the center aisle and set it up in front of the church. Then, while the choir sang--with no instrumental accompaniment--worshippers were invited to "come forward to venerate the cross as they feel led." It was a bit uncomfortable. And I think that was the point.

At first I wasn't sure about it. But about halfway through the choral anthems, I found myself walking forward. I grabbed the kneeling pillow closest to the cross, and I bent as low as I could go. I told God what I just told you --that I have not really crucified my old self --that I'm a lot more self-centered than I thought -- that I really love this world and the things in it, and I really don't like the idea of giving away my bread and fish, or helping Jesus turn over tables, or joining him on the cross. My preference? Run away. Save myself. Look out for #1.

And as I knelt there confessing these things, it didn't feel so much like a guilt-ridden prayer for forgiveness as a sense that I was finally being honest. It was painful--but it was also a relief.

And as I walked out of that beautiful old church, I felt closer to God than I have in a long time.

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