Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The story of a Promise, a Prophet, and a Passion, Part 3

A bit of drama is good for a church's heart. I've read a few places that any good worship service should be dramatic, in one sense or another. Worship should tell a story--the story, if worship is good. And worship should tell this story in such a way that the events become present, after a manner, once more to those gathered. It's participatory theatre (or is it simply eucharistic?).

I believe scripture itself works a bit "eucharistically" or re-present-ationally. The latter stories of scripture retell or recapitulate the former.

So after weeks of retelling the Hebrew Bible's narrative of promise and purpose and another four weeks with that story enacted by the prophet Jonah, we told the story one more time (the final time? the ultimate time?) through a staged reading of John 18-19 on Good Friday.

I wasn't sure if the drama would get the enthusiastic participation telling the Good Friday story (= telling the promise & purpose story) would meet. But as our worship committee dove right in. One man built a rough-hewn, life-size cross out of cherry beams. Another woman dug through the dusty costumes in the church basement and her own sewing pile, while another collected various props. A contractor erected a beautiful empty door-frame. (Doors are very important in John's story!)

By rehearsal on Wednesday of Holy Week, our cast included nearly twenty people, ranging from their early seventies down to some girls in grade 3. We all were wrapped in bathrobes or old pillow cases. Some of us were comfortable with our lines. Some folks' hands and knees were shaking, nervous. As default director, I ran and jumped and shouted and waved my hands around, helping folks figure out when to enter, where to stand, or what my typo-ridden script was trying to communicate.

The performance on Friday morning was beautiful and appropriately tragic. Jesus was betrayed by friends and buried with strangers.

Beginning on the third day, we'd tell stories of resurrection (John offers plenty!). But on Friday morning, we left Jesus lying in the tomb while we went off to family gatherings or fasts.

The Bible begins with a promise. God says, "I love you and I will be with you." Jesus came restating that promise in his own words: "God's kingdom is arriving" and "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."

Along with that promise, humanity received a purpose. We were to image God, to care for everything that had been created just as God did. We refused that task, in the Garden and ever since. Jesus called us back to that purpose: "Repent and believe the Good News" and "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst; indeed, the water I give him will become in a him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

At Golgotha we rejected that promise, that purpose once more. But at Golgotha, Jesus accepted it for us all. I think it was Karl Barth who first got me thinking about how even while Jesus is God-with-us, Jesus is also us-with-God. Jesus is the perfect human, the first person to receive God's promise in complete joy and to cooperate wholly with God's purpose.

Jesus' obedience unto death, even death on a cross, gives us one concrete point in history to point to and say, "That's what working with God looks like." The cross surely shows us the extent of God's love for a lost and sin-sick humanity. It also shows what one person's love for God looks like when it is really true.

At our Good Friday service I didn't sermonize. We simply performed the story and sang a few songs. I trust that the Spirit-inspired story preaches much better than I do. I'm not sure what people took away from that morning. I trust though that God was at work there, speaking God's good promise to us and directing us out into mission.

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