It’s Friday, but Sunday isn’t coming… at least not the Sunday we once knew.
S. M. Lockridge‘s famous sermon refrain, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is Coming” is probably the most famous Good Friday sermon. The entire congregation shouts “Sunday is coming” on cue, filled with hope. But this year, sanctuaries will remain empty, or at least they should.
Earlier today, a friend called, she is a pastor and so is her father. He is planning to have a sun rise Easter service at his church with his parishioners. He’s in his 70s and has a heart condition; definitely at risk. Needless to say, there are many faithful worshipers who are also at risk. Her voice cries over this death sentence; a needless sacrifice; and for what?
So, if any of my clergy friends are reading this, hear me, Jesus died for your church, so you don’t have to. And by the way, Jesus didn’t die for Easter Lillies, ham, eggs, and gathering at sunrise to sing “In the Garden”. Jesus didn’t die for tradition. Jesus did not die so that we can sit on our cushioned pews in our finest clothes with white shoes and gloves. Jesus did not die so that you could hear a brass quartet play the descant of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” with professional sopranos belting the melody. Jesus did not die for you to spread disease in your stained glass sanctuary. Why fashion a coffin from Tiffany’s glass? Lovely as it is; your building is not safe.
The word “sanctuary” means a place of safety and refuge. And Pastor, Priest, clergy, faith leader, etc.; you are called to “minister”; to care for the needs of others. Right now, we need leaders who will do what is right, even if it means hurting feelings. Yes, there will be those among us who are lonely, and isolated and really want to be together, but it is not safe. And I know, technology is difficult, and not everyone can figure out zoom, or live streaming or FaceTime. And for that I grieve. But it is reckless and sinful to gather at this time.
I too miss the smell of hyacinths, the sound of trumpets, and the way the colored light hits the organ pipes. I miss the deep breathing of choral singing, the echoing of descants from the rafters, and even those whose joyful noise is a little off key. I grieve that I won’t get to sit with the children for a moment on the chancel steps; the little girls twirling in frilly dresses; the little boys fussing with bowties; all of them wanting to share their candy and stories. Passing the peace on Easter is somehow different from other times, maybe there are more smiles or hugs or kisses and I will miss each handshake. I’m sad to miss dinner with my family, even though we can’t replicate grandma’s pineapple upside-down cake; I will miss remembering it with them. But these are the things that must be sacrificed to keep everyone safe. We have to give up more than we planned to this year.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac WattsWhen I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God; All the vain things that charmed me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down; Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
“He [Christ Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness”. (1 Peter 2:24)
This year, live for righteousness, not for tradition. Socially distant, yet connected to the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us praise God in the safety of our new sanctuaries. Let us wear our faith like a N95 mask, let us wash our hands in hope, and let us love knowing that the barriers we are experiencing can not stop the love of God. Amen.