Have you ever been to a Quaker service? They don't have preachers. Instead, the congregation sits in silence and waits for someone to be moved by the Spirit and speak the words that the Spirit urges. They believe that anyone present who is open can become a conduit for the very presence of God... but they know that the words are never purely God's words... you see, the water tastes like the pipe. It is still water, but it always takes on a bit of the characteristics of the conduit.
Today, I preached at a Good Friday service. It was the first one in at least 10 years and likely a bit more than that. And things are different in Santa Barbara. Back east, we did a 3 hour service from noon to 3:00 with seven preachers usually doing the seven last words of Jesus. Today, we did the seven last words... with seven preachers... and the service was scheduled to last an hour. Each sermon was supposed to be between five and seven minutes long! (In my tradition, that is how long it takes to clear your throat... or maybe introduce yourself). We actually did pretty well and only went over by about 15 minutes. I did go over my time though but I was able to keep my remarks to about 10 minutes.
Anyway, I was struck by the way the water tasted like the pipes. There were some wonderful words spoken and a couple of the sermons really touched me. Each one reflected not only the theology but also the experiences of the preacher so each one was significantly different and I would have been very unlikely to take any of the passages in exactly the direction they went (although I do have some hints for another year) but the water was still there. Clearly too, if the water came through my pipes... it tasted of me.
FWIW, I preached on the last word - "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," Luke 23:44-49... and here is the sermon I preached.
It is traditional to spend this time on Good Friday reflecting on the words and experience of Jesus... and there is certainly lots of preaching material there, but as I thought about this passage, I kept coming back not to the words of Jesus, but to the reaction of his followers to the events of that day...
But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
It struck me that Jesus had no other option but to commend his spirit, his life, to the Father as there was nobody else there for him. There was nobody standing next to him and touching him to comfort him. There was nobody breathing in unison with him so he would know he was not alone as he died. There was nobody there to rail at the injustice as even the centurion remarked that he was surely innocent. There was nobody there to affirm that in spite of the events of that horrific day, Jesus had made a difference in the lives of real people and had opened a new way of seeing and experiencing the presence of God. There was nobody there to comfort him and assure him that the work he had begun would be continued. No, those who had shared his life and his ministry stood at a distance and watched and he... was... alone...
We can understand their lack of action. Clearly they were traumatized. They entered Jerusalem expecting miracles. They entered the city of peace expecting that God was going to do something amazing and it had not happened as they expected. Jesus hanging on a cross was so far from what they had imagined that it never had even entered their nightmares.
They were in shock that the one who had turned their lives upside down, who exemplified the very power and presence of God was dying before their eyes and, no doubt, they were having difficulty even believing that it was really happening. Perhaps they thought that if they stayed far enough away, it might not be real.
And they were afraid... they were afraid that they might be next. They were afraid that someone might recognize that they had been with him and that the same crowds would turn against them just as they had Jesus. They were afraid of Roman whips and even more afraid of Roman hammers and nails. So they stood at a distance and watched.
And Jesus was alone. The one who was hurting, the one who's very life work was in question, the one who needed support, the one whom those with power had oppressed and trampled down, the one in need... was alone... and it should not have been that way.
All too often, you and I stand at a distance and watch as Jesus suffers in the guise of the poor, the powerless, the broken, the sick, the imprisoned. We who know the rest of the story must not stand at a distance and watch. Those in need must not be left with only the option of commending their pain to God.
Forgive me for getting ahead of myself and of the story here but I am reminded this year of a quote from my friend Pete Rollins who was asked whether he denied the resurrection, he said - “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
"I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
"However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed."
I pray this year, that even on Good Friday, you and I will affirm the resurrection and not leave those in need with their only option being to commend their lives to God while we stand at a distance and watch.