I do not pretend today to offer you something adequate to the church’s celebration of Good Friday, Holy Week or Easter. Those worship services are among the most rich and personally rewarding for me on the Christian calendar. We are — or at least I am — going to use the Christian freedom God has given us, at great cost in Christ, and forgive ourselves for that. On this Good Friday we punt, stay safely at home or socially distant, as we pray for those who labor and suffer.
Christian worship is a community act, not a performance or consumer product. I recall complaining to one of my seminary professors that our chapel worship was boring. He, rightly replied, “Mark, worship is not about you.” It’s center isn’t what I get out of it, but rather, what, together, we bring before God. At the foot of the cross, Christ created a new community of compassion for the world which later will be called the church. Perhaps this is a good place to begin today: at least we can say this, today we are all living in the shadow of a cross of immense human suffering.
This Good Friday let us pray: Lord, we pray for those who keep us fed and governed; for those who risk their lives to care for the sick and keep us safe; for those who mourn the dead; for all of us who are afraid; for those who labor through this long night. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
John 19:25 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This is a remarkable, human moment recorded in John. Here, Jesus gives the care of his mother over to his most beloved friend and disciple. In his last breath, Jesus creates the new community of Christ’s family: he gives his spirit. Like so many double meanings in this text, this breath is both, literally, Jesus' last breath and the giving of the Holy Spirit: the advocate promised, the one who brings comfort and speaks through the words of Scripture: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Here in John’s gospel, within the shadow of great human suffering is pentecost, the church is born, empowered to be an intimate family of God’s love for the world ... for God so loved the world.
It is becoming clearer to me each day, that we are witnessing a transformative moment in our culture and church, church local and church global. Los Altos UMC has in some sense been a community divided by memory. A part of the church remembers legendary pastors and music making and they have also experienced deep institutional and personal trauma; another segment of the church is new; without this memory, they have a different experience of vitality. Much of my challenge in the last four years has been learning to lead this complex entity. It occurs to me that this pandemic is the end of the church we knew. As we begin to gather again, in whatever ways that looks like, we will be a new community, a community united by the common trauma of this pandemic of human suffering. Perhaps, now have an opportunity to become something new together, renewed by the Spirit of God’s great compassion for the world.
On the cross Jesus is thirsty. The world reborn will be one thirsty for the compassion that God has given us to offer. For the first time, in my memory, we will be a planet united by a common trauma that all humanity shares. With Gods help, we will also will be a church reborn in God’s love for the world. Jesus bowed his head, looked at us, and gave. Lord, give us the Spirit that is yours.
On this Good Friday let us pray: O Lord we thank you for the gift of your Spirit, we thank you for one another, for the blessing of being your church. May we in the shadow of human suffering, learn together to be a healing people for the world’s great need. Lord, remember us, when you come into your Kingdom. Amen.
-- Pastor Mark Sturgess