Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Death of Jesus and the Witness of Being

Rebekah at Marcia's memorial Friday morning
Summoning the centurion, Pilate asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. (Mark 15)

Yesterday morning - Good Friday - our church was literally packed with people gathered to celebrate the life of a dear friend who had died early Palm Sunday. Marcia was just 65 but has been fighting cancer for 14 years. She once told Rebekah she'd like to pass on during Holy Week. Good Friday was also Earth Day this year and that must have made the keen gardener in her smile.

Rebekah's message could well have been the perfect sermon for Easter Sunday. She encapsulated the message of hope and promise in such a way that it was obvious how and why Marcia's life had been such a vibrant witness to the compelling nature of Christ's Good News.

What Marica had been doing over that past couple of decades was, to borrow a phrase from my new book, "Drawing attention to the truth about God, simply by being."

But Thursday and Friday were a long couple of days. Twenty-four hours, three services.

Someone took the lid off!
Typically, our Maundy-Thursday event at fpcBrandon comprises a church family supper in the fellowship hall that morphs into a worship service with communion around the tables. It's a "Love Feast" really, with laughter and sharing and elders stationed at each table to serve the bread and the wine. I have always enjoyed the powerful intimacy of the occasion.

But this year someone removed the lid from the building and the kitchen has been reduced to rubble. So we had to get creative. To my mind, that's where this church and its pastors really shine.

Forget the spiritualization of tradition, or applying the sanction of "too holy to change" to practice or habit; I enjoy the sanctification of a creative innovation that's rooted in biblical truth. And I love to watch us move forward as the Spirit takes up residence in new practices.

Transformed sanctuary Maundy Thursday
So we moved all the pews and placed a banquet table down the center aisle of the sanctuary. Rebekah put together a PowerPoint slide show that included a few written phrases along with twelve minutes of pictures. Mark and I played hymns on piano and guitar while the unspoken message was "preached". We then were seated at the table in groups of 24 - twelve on each side - taking common communion as collections of disciples then leaving silently into the night.

We served the entire congregation while Mark and I played. Then, in what was to me the most powerful moment of the evening, those of us who had led and served and ushered sat around the table in the empty, darkened sanctuary and served one-another. This is my body, broken for you; this is my blood, poured out...

Holy Friday is the day "The Preacher" is always a little antsy. Or - more accurately - she feels a deep sense of dark solemnity, as the fact of crucifixion reaches into her soul. Marcia's memorial service actually helped, because it was an opportunity to articulate the monumental achievement of Calvary and, then, Easter morning (See yesterday's short post, "I Know Beyond a Shadow" at my regular blog site).

The rooster bears witness
So Friday evening's "Service of Shadows" was especially meaningful and redemptive. It concluded with twelve leaders from our church making statements such as "We denied Him again", extinguishing a candle, and leaving the sanctuary with one of the symbols; the communion cup, a crown of thorns, a candle, the shroud.... Until the last voice called, "And we denied Him" one last time and extinguished the remaining light before we all - in silence, in darkness - emptied the building.

As I write, this morning, scores of our children are hunting eggs that have been hidden by our youth. It's a moment of sunshine in a day that is still loaded with the shocking fact of Christ's death, a day that is redolent with the promise of Easter Morning!


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