Saturday, April 07, 2007

April 7, 2007 - Holy Saturday Thoughts

Today, I'm still thinking about a wonderful sermon I heard yesterday, at our community Good Friday service. It was preached by my friend and colleague from across the street, Father John Thompson-Quartey, pastor of St. Mary's By-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

For the past several years, our ecumenical Good Friday services have contained a number of short sermons by ministers of the community. While we pastors often work with each other on community projects, Good Friday is one of the few chances we have, during the year, to hear one another preach.

John did not disappoint. In his sermon, he referred to a statue in his church's Memorial Garden that depicts Mary holding the Christ child. That, in itself, is not unusual; there are countless images of Madonna and child. Yet, as he explained, this one is different. This statue does not depict Mary cradling the infant in her arms, lovingly gazing into his eyes. No, she is holding the young Jesus out, with his back to her. His arms are stretched wide, as though to embrace some unknown person to whom Mary is handing him.

John made the point that this is very much what happens on Good Friday. Mary is holding Jesus out to the world, offering him up. His arms are outstretched, as they were on the cross. For a mother to hold her infant out in such a way, she must trust the person to whom she is handing him. Similarly, God entrusted Jesus to the human race – and we killed him. Yet, having been raised from the dead, he lives on, and his open-armed embrace continues to be there for us.

Today is Holy Saturday. In the Presbyterian Church, it's a day when not much happens – a sort of in-between day, bookended by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday on the one hand, and the jubilation of Easter on the other. In terms of the gospel story, it's the day Jesus' body rested in the tomb.

Today, I'm in the midst of writing my Easter sermon. Last year, at this time, I was reeling from the side effects of a chemo treatment I'd had a few days before. I knew I'd never make it to Easter services the next day, let alone lead them. Here's what I wrote, back then, in this blog:

"My whole life, these days, is a Holy Saturday. Laid low by the weakness and malaise of chemotherapy, I am in a waiting mode – waiting to get better. Tomorrow morning, as I listen to the church bells from across the street and perhaps glimpse the comings and goings of worshipers through the curtains, I will seek to celebrate the resurrection vicariously, in my own way, apart from the worshiping community."

My situation, this year, is of course very different. I'm grateful for that, and grateful to be writing a sermon. Easter is the day preachers live for, each year: the day when we have our best opportunity to share the good news that's at the heart of Christian faith.

It's good to be back.

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