Friday, March 21, 2008

The Proper of Today: Good Friday

We continue the Paschal Triduum today with the Proper Liturgy of Good Friday. This liturgy is actually a continuation of last evening's worship. There was no dismissal last evening, and there will be none tonight. The Paschal Mystery doesn't end (ever, really) in our liturgies during these days until the triumphal sung Dismissal at the conclusion of the First Eucharist of Easter at the Vigil. Until then, the Church remains in contemplation and prayer over what has been done for us.

This is a bit of a risk because it could be a total bomb, but here's what I intend to preach this evening at St. Thomas's:

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Vernon

Good Friday 2008 (RCL)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1 – 19:42

The Rev. R. F. Solon, Jr., Vicar

May these words be in the Name of the Crucified One, Jesus Christ our Savior.

“We pray, therefore, for people everywhere according to their needs.”

That’s the conclusion of the bidding that we will hear in just a few minutes to invite us to pray together the Solemn Collects, the prayers appointed specifically for Good Friday. A “collect” is a prayer that collects the thoughts of those praying it. In a few minutes we will offer a series of these collects, that, together with the Passion Gospel, make up the heart of our worship for this day. Notice what the entire introduction, called the bidding, of this series of prayers suggests to us:

“Dear People of God, Our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved; that all who believe in him might be delivered from the power of sin and death, and become heirs with him of everlasting life.

“We pray, therefore, for people everywhere according to their needs.”

The key word is “therefore.” We are about to pray on behalf of, as you will see, a long list of people, because first of all, God sent Jesus to us and to the whole world. God in Jesus made it possible for us poor human beings to become heirs with Christ of everlasting life. As a result, we therefore pray for others, that they too might receive this same salvation.

Notice what we’re doing in response to hearing again the Passion, the narrative of the suffering and death of Jesus the Christ. We pray. We pray for the church, for the world and those in authority, those who are suffering in any way, those who do not know Jesus as Lord, and finally only at the end for our own selves, last and definitely least in the order of things. There’s a definite focus to our worship today. It isn’t primarily sadness or grief. Certainly there is a great deal of emotion on this day. And grief or regret may be part of what you are feeling. The Passion Gospel is nothing if not dramatic, and it can evoke all kinds of reactions. But what our liturgy asks us to do in direct response to that Gospel is not to look inward, but to look outward. How do we do that in the midst of our worship? We can’t just leave and come back, although that is certainly the right attitude. And so we pray. We pray specifically for others. If you look carefully, you will notice we pray for the same groups and people as we do every Sunday when we gather.

This evening, though, we pray for a very special reason. We pray because Jesus on the Cross prayed first. He prayed for us, and his prayer was the prayer of his own entire self, his body and soul and spirit. He prayed himself for us, that we might see once and for all the salvation of God. He didn’t have to go through any of it. He was innocent. But he did so, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. It was his will and the will of his Father. He wanted to make sure that we too could feel and know the love that he felt and knew from the Father. The awesomeness of Calvary is that Jesus went up that hill of his own free will, because he loved, and loves, us so much we was willing to die for us.

And so we respond, perhaps in contemplation, awe, sadness, and even adoration. Holy Week, if you haven’t noticed, is full of actions, both symbolic and real. On Palm Sunday we symbolically re-enacted the Triumphal entry of our Lord into the Holy City. Last night we washed each others’ feet. That action, although ceremonial, was not symbolic of anything. We did what we did to show love for one another. Just now we symbolically entered in again to Our Lord’s Passion. Reading the Passion Gospel in parts is a deep tradition in the Church. And you’ll also notice there are no decorations, no anything on the Altar or around it. We stripped it last evening, and then all left silently. That was symbolic. We did that to symbolically enter in to the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a tradition in much of Western Christianity to bring in a Cross on this day so that people may honor it in whatever way seems fit. We will enter into that tradition in a few moments as well. It’s altogether fitting that we take time on this day to revere the very symbol of our faith, the Cross itself. I invite you into that reverence, in whatever way you feel comfortable.

But before you do, I would ask you to listen closely to the Solemn Collects we will shortly pray together. Respond firmly with your Amen, because that is what gives your assent to what we just prayed on your behalf. As you do so, think about who specifically comes to mind as you pray. And reflect on why we are praying. This evening we pray in response to what Jesus accomplished on that hill. We pray as a result of what he did. But the deeper invitation we have is not merely to pray within the context of our worship this night. The deeper invitation is to pray our own entire selves, our bodies and souls and spirits, as a result of what happened on that Friday. When we pray our entire selves, we find ourselves moving, acting, speaking. Our prayer of ourselves begins to take on real flesh and bone and blood. We begin to act our prayer when we pray our entire selves. Our faith becomes embodied in our prayer and our prayer becomes embodied in our lives. We pray, therefore, for all people according to their needs. Therefore why? Because of the whips and the beating and the taunts and the Cross itself we pray. The Crucifixion of Jesus invites us to turn Jesus’ own prayer on Calvary around and to pray for the world with our entire selves, too. He prayed for the world with his entire self. As you pray the Solemn Collects, as you contemplate the Cross this evening, how can your prayer for the entire world be with your entire self as well?

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Amen.


No comments: