Yesterday I shoveled slush and ice for 90 minutes with my neighbor. It didn't take as long as the big snow did, but it was harder, heavier, messier. The big snow shoveling was like a great workout--yesterday was like torture! Besides, I leaned out all out upstairs window with a putter and knocked down all the icicles I could reach. Some were taller than me....then I heard on the radio that it isn't finished...more snow, maybe another foot, on Friday. It isn't finished.
I'm supply priest at Emmanuel, Killingworth this month. It's a great little church full of interesting people. This coming Sunday is the Annual Meeting and a lunch so the Sr. Warden politely suggested it might be best to cut my sermon a little short....though I don't think of them as very long. I of course agreed and was reminded of my making that request to someone years ago. I thought I'd share that story here.
Back, 20+ years ago, when I arrived at St. John's Waterbury, the parish was a member of the WACC (Waterbury Area Council of Churches). The tradition, on Good Friday, was to meet at one church or another for 'the seven last words of Christ', during which seven preachers preached seven short sermons....Since WACC had member churches from Episcopal to Church of God, that was quite a collection of preachers. Sometimes it was really good and sometimes it was dreadful.
I missed the Episcopal Good Friday service--three hours of readings, music and silence (mostly silence). I convinced the WACC worship committee that we could have the best of both worlds, that I could fit the 7 sermons into the Good Friday liturgy. So that's what we did for years until the WACC became interfaith. At that point it became clear to me that WACC could no longer sponsor a 'Good Friday' service. There was some resistance. One member even said, "Why can't we made Good Friday and inter-faith service?" At first I just stared and then tried to explain that Good Friday is distinctly Christian. It would be like trying to have an Inter-Faith Passover or an Inter-Faith Ramadan . The questioner wasn't convinced but the rest of the worship committee was.
The last Good Friday Liturgy/communion from the reserved sacrament/ 7 last words of Christ service (which never 'really' fit together all that well) was the most exciting. The first five words went over well. I told preachers they had to say within 7 minutes and the first 5 did. But the sixth word sermon was by the local AME pastor and I knew he was going to exceed the time limit because of the look he gave me when I'd told him, the week before, to hold it to 7 minutes. He didn't disappoint. He passed 10 minutes, then 12 and at that point he said, "let us return now to Bethlehem...." I wanted to shout, "You're headed in the wrong direction...."
He stopped after 22 minutes in which he covered all the major points of Jesus' life and a good chunk of AME theology.
In the silence that followed, I went to Maner Tyson, the Southern Baptist and my good friend. "There are Southern Baptists and then there's Maner," I always say.
"Maner", I whispered, "you have to cut the 7th word down to a minute...."
"It won't take even that long," he said.
The Last of the Last Words is: "It is finished."
The passage was read and Maner got up to preach.
"When he died," Maner told us, "Jesus said 'it is finished'...." He paused a moment, looking at the congregation, "But we know it wasn't....Amen."
One of the best sermons I ever heard....
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