Isaiah 52:13-53:12 † Psalm 22:1-31 † Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9 † John 18:1-19:42
As hard as this day is, I realize I have taken great comfort these past 10 years or so from being in our space at St Andrew with the community at Good Friday worship. As hard as it has been to sit in that building on this night, in that space stripped of all the extra things, empty and dark, listening to this story of harrowing betrayal and execution, I have taken great comfort from being there with you - going through the motions – motions that hold us.
I remember going to a play with Julie Kae a few years ago. This play was about some contemporary families trying to make their way through harrowing loss. Despite its contemporary setting there was this Greek-type chorus that kept appearing on the edges of the drama. They would take their places on stage in a regimented way, always lined up and somewhat stiffer in style from the rest of the work. They were of the play but, at the same time, outside of it. They would reflect on the action - interpret it for each other and for the audience. They would react and they would say the things that needed to be said.
Afterwards Julie Kae commented something along the lines of, “those Greeks - so clever!” She followed this up with some explanation. Choruses, she told me, were used in ancient tragedies to give some form in which the chaos could be held and approached. They functioned as means by which the audience could get a little closer to the difficult thing being explored. They mediated for the audience - provided some way of holding and getting close to - whatever it was they needed to know from these events or experiences or questions being explored. Experiences or questions too big, too harrowing, to look at in their entirety.
The ways we gather, the things we do when we are in worship together, on this night, and on others, provide a form for that which is too big for any one of us. They provide a way to take a look at and get closer to the mystery of God. They provide a way to hold what often can feel like chaos: the things we bring with us, the experiences and questions of this world. And they help us see who we are as a people, not alone, but working out our calling from God together.
But this year we are apart, and there is much to hold. There is disorientation and difficulty everywhere we look, and it’s a lot to manage. And among all this disorientation and difficulty there are these questions that need attention. Important questions that we must as a people of God, as a society, take on if we are to be well. Questions of how resources are used and whose life is important, and what God would want us to learn and do with all we are seeing and experiencing. But it is very big, so big, too big perhaps, and we are without each other, without the ways we usually rely on to get close to such things.
Did you notice that we switched the reading this year for this night? Normally we read from John, but this year we went to Matthew. And mostly we did so, so we could hear that line from Jesus, “ Won't you stay awake with me?” This one who is facing a bitter ending, something so big and difficult asks his friends, “won’t you stay awake with me.” Maybe there is something we who must be apart could learn here.
At first, I was really saddened by the beginning of the reading. Jesus needs his friend as he starts to experience grief and agitation. As he starts to get to get close, starts to see in new terrifying ways what he is really facing, they leave him alone. But what was so striking to me in this reading was that where I might expect irritation or the projection of anxiety, I heard what felt to me like gentleness in Jesus. He sounds lost and let down, but when he realizes, after asking his friends a number of times for their company, that they are not able to respond to him, he leaves them alone to sleep - and he goes to pray.
Perhaps prayer is one of the forms that might hold us these days. Perhaps as we are separated from each other prayer could serve to hold us and the things we individually and collectively are facing. I was talking to some folks at REACH about prayer yesterday. REACH brings the Renton area churches together and with partners, lots of partners, they work with and for those who are hungry and without homes. We were talking about prayer and in this community of different traditions, different spiritualities, different ways of being in the world, it felt really good, really right, to affirm that no-one gets to say what the right way to pray is. It can take any form that works for us, and however we engage prayer, be it through writing, speaking, singing, dancing, walking, whatever, however, we do it, we know it is prayer because it takes us closer to that which is holy, that which is usually too big to take on in its entirety.
Prayer brings us closer, little by little, as we are able to what we are holding, what we long for, what we are thankful for, what we are scared of, what we are questioning. It brings us closer to these things, just as much as we can manage – no more, no less. And it brings us closer to God: the one who is beyond us but has placed in us a knowledge that we and the ways we think about things matter alongside everyone else – no more no less. There is a spirit in you that wants you to know these things and wants you to know that you were not made to take on the world alone. Maybe as we are apart, prayer can be a form that we can trust to hold us, and a way for us to get closer to what we are called to as people of God together, even as we are apart. And maybe if we were to explore prayer in our own ways during this time of forced separation, the motions that we go through when we get back together, well, they might have some new life.
Prayer is a central part of this Good Friday service. There is a tradition in the Christian church that we pray for the world on Good Friday. All of it – or as much as we can manage. It’s a tradition that asks us to look closely at the injustice and the suffering and to pray. We pray in lament and in humility. And we pray in the knowledge, the trust, that the life and justice we want, while beyond us, has not abandoned us, but is working in us bringing new life; getting us to Easter. So, dear ones, pray as you are able with us tonight in this form that this church has given us and then maybe in the next few hours or days or weeks whisper, or write or draw or walk your own prayer. Whatever it looks like, let your questions and your longings have form. They are holy things and let this prayer develop in you, as it will, as you give time to it, and may you remember that you are not alone, but you have a God and a people waiting to look for, and to celebrate new life, with you. Amen
St. Andrew Sermons