Thinking Out Loud

April 2, 2018

Thoughts After Watching Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC

It had been a long, long time since I’d listen to the album I purchased as a kid, and I’d never seen the movie or the stage show, so last night my wife and watched NBC-TV’s live (on the East coast at least) broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I have to admit that part of my interest was in the fact this was a live broadcast, and other than some sound problems at the beginning, the production did not disappoint. Working the various handheld cameras around the action required some detailed blocking on the part of the actors and choreographers and I was impressed with what I saw, as well as the times they cut away to actors reacting to things happening front and center.

My wife rarely watches broadcast television, so for her the number of commercials — always playing at a louder volume despite an FCC restriction that stations are now ignoring — were supremely annoying. Better for the network to charge more for fewer spots, in my opinion. The only good thing here was that in four of the commercial breaks there was a split-screen  allowing you to see the backstage action as cast and crew prepared for the next scene. But this was offset by the sheer number of “blipverts” in those packages; I’ll swear there nearly 20 corporations represented in each break, or so it seemed.

Unlike Godspell which purports to cover the entire life of Christ, Superstar is focused on the final week of Christ’s life; in other words, the ‘Hosanna’ procession into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the betrayal and arrest, etc.  (For my thoughts on Godspell see this article.) The entire production is sung, i.e. there is no spoken diaglog. This was, after all, one of the original rock operas.

The script puts a heavier focus on the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and Jesus and Mary Magdalene than we find in scripture and has to invent screenplay to do so. Otherwise, the basics of the story are intact, but there is no resurrection, and the only reference to Jesus being laid in the tomb is an instrumental on the album simply titled “John 19:41” (Text: At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.)

It’s at this point the script becomes problematic. Conservative Evangelicals were not happy with the Andrew Lloyd Webber – Tim Rice musical when it released in 1970; the show’s very title causing sermons to be preached against it. The romantic interest in Jesus by Mary M. didn’t help. There are no parables or teaching. Only one reference to the people who came seeking healing from disease.

Today, 48 years later, there is far less Biblical literacy. There were no graphics showing who was speaking and when I wasn’t 100% sure about one, twenty minutes in (and also due to the aforementioned audio issues) I found it simpler to pull up the full lyrics on my smartphone, and consult those when I felt I was missing a line here and there. For someone unfamiliar with the Bible account, the show might have been more bewildering.

The problem with productions like this are the same as what I said about watching the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ earlier this week. (See review here.) A generation not Biblically literate would have difficulty knowing what is canon and what is not.

Overall, the production, focusing on that last week of Christ’s life as it does and minus a resurrection, is rather dark. I felt like I was watching 1,500 people watch a stage show in a science fiction movie, the cavernous Marcy Armory adding to that impression. The costumes for the Pharisees looked more out of Star Wars than 1st Century Palestine. John Legend was credible as Jesus, and no mention of Alice Cooper playing Herod (see photo) would be complete without noting his costume, which some say appeared to be on fire.

I also followed the people live Tweeting at #JesusChristSuperstar during the production. Although the following should have a language warning, it was the only one I actually liked, as it summed up my feelings about the show: “Hope no religious folks are offended by this. Think about it this way, you have a shit ton of us non-theists watching a show about Jesus on Easter. I call that a win.”

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April 13, 2017

Good Friday: I Wish I’d Thought of It

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

In much younger days I had a friend who I said I would be willing to die for. I’m not sure if I went on record with this in an informal conversation or if it was said in a talk I would have given to a particular group of young adults.

Today, I’m not going to be dismissive of it. I’m not going to suggest it seems a little silly, though it does seem rather extreme. But is it? In a world where people donate kidneys and bone marrow to perfect strangers?

John 15:12 comes to mind: “There is no greater way to love than to give your life for your friends.” (The Voice).

The Good Friday narrative is something we could never have come up with by ourselves. 1 Corinthians 2:9 echoes Isaiah 64:4 “No one has ever seen this, and no one has ever heard about it. No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (NCV) In Isaiah 55:8-9 we’re reminded that “His ways are higher than ours,” translated elsewhere as:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.  (NLT)

Just a few days ago we quoted Walter Wink, “If Jesus had never lived we would never have been able to invent him.”

…As I thought about this, a song title popped into my head, “A Strange Way to Save the World.” I don’t know this song at all, and a quick search proved it to be a Christmas song, not an Easter one; but the sentiment still applies namely, for those of us outside the Jewish sacrificial framework, the act of atonement would not have been predicted, and even within that context, a human sacrifice might not have been foreseen.

One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 10:11-12 (the reference is easily memorized)

11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. (NLT)

I wonder if back in that day, anyone ever looked the priests, “ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices” (NASB) and wondered, ‘What if we had a way to do this once and for all?’ Maybe that’s just me, or perhaps it’s just a 2017 mindset. Maybe they didn’t think like that back then. Or, ‘What if there was such a perfect sacrifice that this act need never be repeated?’

It was and is a strange way to save the world.

…I’m posting this on Thursday so we can think about it as we head into Good Friday. This whole thing, conceived in the mind of God is so simple that a child can understand it, but so intricately detailed that an adult can never cease to be fascinated by it.

And then there’s prophecy; that dozens upon dozens of prophecies are fulfilled on a single day. We often talk about a story that wraps up all its loose ends as, ‘putting a bow on it.’ In this one God ties up the bow and hands us a gift labelled, ‘For you.’

…Even as I write this I see my words’ deficiencies. I’m thinking of the plan of salvation and not focusing that in all of this Jesus is ushering in his kingdom. For 3+ years he teaches, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand;’ (see Matthew 4:17) and if this Easter weekend represents the climax of the story, then certainly his death and resurrection has huge kingdom implications. It’s hard to tell the whole story in a few short paragraphs and not leave something out.

However, we are on safe ground to allow ourselves to see this weekend in atonement terms. Looking to the cross we find forgiveness. Remembering his sacrifice on Good Friday we’re reminded that “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 CSB)

 

 

April 11, 2017

Judas’ Betrayal versus Peter’s Denial – Part Two

Peter and Judas as painted by DaVinci

A few weeks ago we were reading Luke 22:

NLT Luke 22:21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me…”

and it occurred to me while we generally accept this as applying to Judas, there is a sense in which this could apply to Peter as well. We looked at this topic yesterday, but today we return with some words from Philip Yancey:

Judas was not the first or the last person to betray Jesus, merely the most famous.

To [the Japanese Christian novelist Shusaku Endo], the most powerful message of Jesus was his unquenchable love even for — especially for — people who betrayed him. When Judas led a lynch mob into the garden, Jesus addressed him as “Friend.” The other disciples deserted him but still he loved them. His nation had him executed; yet while stretched out naked in the posture of ultimate disgrace, Jesus roused himself for the cry, “Father, forgive them.”

I know of no more poignant contrast between two human destinies than that of Peter and Judas. Both assumed leadership within the group of Jesus’ disciples. Both saw and heard wondrous things. Both went through the same dithery cycle of hope, fear, and disillusionment. As the stakes increased, both denied their Master. There, the similarity breaks off

Judas, remorseful but apparently unrepentant, accepted the logical consequences of his deed, took his own life, and went down as the greatest traitor in history. He died unwilling to receive what Jesus had come to offer him. Peter, humiliated but still open to Jesus’ message of grace and forgiveness, went on to lead a revival in Jerusalem and did not stop until he had reached Rome.

~ Excerpt from the book Grace Notes as quoted at Zondervan blog.

At Redeeming God, Jeremy Myers has an excellent article on this subject. This is a very small excerpt:

…Maybe you remember that before Judas betrayed Christ, Satan entered into him (Lk. 22:3). And we think, “That’s why Judas was so evil.” But did you know that Jesus called Peter Satan? Once, as Jesus was walking along with his disciples, he was telling them what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He said that he would be put to death. Peter didn’t like to hear this, so he took Jesus aside, and rebuked him by saying, “Never Lord! Don’t say such things. This shall never happen to you.” How did Jesus respond? He looked right at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 16:21-23; John 6:70-71).

So in other words, both Judas and Peter were influenced in one way or another by Satan. We can also be certain that both wanted Jesus to be someone he was not: a political, military, kingly ruler. Both wanted Jesus to rule and to reign and to judge. Both wanted him to overthrow the Romans, and set himself up as king, and return Israel to the glory they once had, and which is prophesied they will have again. Both wanted a type of Messiah that Jesus had not come to be. Again, all of us remember Judas for his betrayal, his treachery. But did you know that Peter betrayed Christ as well? Both turned their backs on Jesus. Judas sold Christ to those who wanted to kill him for 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave.

…start at the beginning of that article here

Finally, a Roman Catholic website, Our Sunday Visitor, also offers was is an excellent study by Robert King on these two disciples:

…Contrary to how modern movies about Jesus often portray Peter, he was actually a religious man even before Jesus came into his life. He once responded to Christ with the statement, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14), showing that he lived his life attempting to obey the laws and ordinances of God.

Unlike the self-righteous religious leaders of the day, Peter was also very aware of his own sinful state, declaring to Jesus, “depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Peter was so open to the inspiration of God that he was able to understand that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt 16:16-17).

We can also learn a lot from the way Jesus viewed Peter. It is quite clear from Scripture that Jesus saw within Peter something very special, an inner strength and a sincerity of purpose in following Him and in serving God…

…When we examine Judas’s character and lifestyle, we find quite a different story. Judas was the treasurer of the group, the one who held the money. When the woman poured the bottle of expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet, it was Judas who complained, declaring that the money could have been used for the poor (Jn 12:6-8).

Yet, we are told in this same passage Judas’s objection was because he was a thief who was stealing from the group’s money, and not because he really cared for the poor. Even in this incident, we see no real love or concern about Jesus, and only a false piety about the poor. Judas was more concerned about money than he was about Jesus. We can almost assume that there was absolutely no genuine concern about Jesus whatsoever.

According to the Scriptures, though Jesus often spoke encouraging words to Peter, He never spoke anything positive or encouraging to Judas. Jesus himself said that Judas was “a devil” (Jn 6:70-71). He also said that it would have been better if Judas had not even been born (Mt 26:24). Unlike the love Jesus had for Peter, there is no such evidence of any like emotion for Judas. This is because Jesus knew that Judas’s heart was full of self-interest and ulterior motives…

…start at the beginning of that article at this link

I hope you’ll consider delving into one of the last two items quoted here.

 

April 10, 2017

Judas’ Betrayal versus Peter’s Denial – Part One

Judas.

Peter.

Who screwed up most?

Does it matter?

Several years ago I was reading a classic, The First Easter, by Peter Marshall. It’s written in a style that actually reminds me so much of Rob Bell’s writing. I’ve read it out loud as part of our family Bible study, divided into seven sections of about twenty pages each. Last night was the middle part, which seemed to portray clearly great remorse on Judas’ part.

I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood… Jesus of Nazareth. He had done nothing amiss.

In a 2011 piece at the CNN Belief blog, Craig Gross discussed this topic in great detail. He describes asking his Facebook network if they believe Judas is in heaven or hell today? The first response was dogmatic.

Judas is in hell today. He’s been there for 2,000 years and he’ll be there forever.

Craig was not impressed. He notes how convinced everyone is that their view is correct. As if it matters. I know there have been times in my life where I denied the Savior. Maybe not as overtly as Peter. And I’m sure if I look there have been times where, by some mis-step, some mis-statement, some inflection or even laughter, I have betrayed the cause of Christ. Perhaps not with the same historical significance, but then, who is to say? Craig reminds me:

It is easier to debate these issues and make speculations about others than it is to actually look at ourselves in the mirror. It is always easier to think someone else is worse off then we are.

I guess my greater concern is how all of this puts the focus on the wrong person. Judas or Peter are not what this coming weekend is all about. It’s all about Jesus. It always has been. It’s a time to gaze deep into the eyes of the suffering Christ and through His pain, see Him reflecting back lavish amounts of love. To me. To you.

Allow nothing to take the focus off where it belongs. It was our sin — just as bad or worse than Peter’s or Judas’ — that put Jesus on the cross, but He willingly allowed this to give us a future and a hope.

Allow the love of Jesus Christ to overwhelm you in the next several days as we remember His death, and His triumph over death.

March 21, 2017

C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits

C. S. Lewis certainly belongs in any list of the Top 10 Christian writers of the 20th Century, but for many his thoughts are more easily digested in sound bites rather than the reading of complete works. I was a little surprised when, with 2017’s season of Lent well underway I was offered an opportunity to review Preparing For Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C. S. Lewis, but I wasn’t about to turn down a chance to reconsider Lewis’ brilliance in a different format.

Really, the seasonal title of the book is unfortunate, a better one might be C. S. Lewis’s Greatest Hits, though the book is not limited to his apologetics but introduction makes clear that, “being a leading Christian defender of the faith would not be the only reason to explain Lewis’s posthumous popularity… [He] was also a pioneering explainer of the Christian life itself… Lewis’s apologetics are so powerful precisely because many find his vision of the Christian life so compelling and inspiring. It is this later role of Lewis’s, as a visionary prophet for how to follow Christ today, that this collection is concerned with.”

It’s also helpful to take the more more familiar passages; the Lewis-isms which have become soundbites, such as,

  • Aim at Heaven you will get earth ‘thrown in’: am at earth and you will get neither
  • If I find in my self a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
  • The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

and read these, at least partially, in their fuller original context.

But there is also the more obscure, the sections in the various Letters… collections which I have never perused. I would have liked more of these, such as his take on pacifism — a view he describes as “recent and local” — as well as his picture of heaven:

The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.

Equally helpful to me were the sections in books I had read previously but had somehow simply missed, which in these shorter, daily readings — most run four pages in a digest-sized volume — are brought into clearer focus, such as the excerpt I ran on Friday.

Not every word that Lewis wrote is gospel. Some of his ideas were his own opinions and perhaps a few were somewhat fanciful. But such is the nature of his writing. I don’t always get Song of Solomon, either, but it’s in the same volume that offers me the gospel of Luke or the epistle to the Romans.  Many passages are highly personal to Lewis, or perhaps the reader.

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ. (194)

Included with each of the 50 readings are references to selected scripture passages which enhance the devotional experience. The volume ends with a reading for Easter Sunday. Again, to repeat what I said earlier, this really ought to be a non-seasonal product. In the meantime however, it will well serve people charged with preparing material for the central season of the Christian year, or latecomers like myself who were able to binge-read it in several sittings.


HarperOne; 2017 hardcover; 214 pages; 17.99 US; 9780062641649. Material is suitable and helpful for all Christian traditions. Compiled by Zachry Kincaid. Thanks to Nadea Mina for a review copy.

More info at CSLewis.com

 

March 26, 2016

A New Holy Week Experience

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Last night for the first time, we attended a Tenebrae service in an Anglican (Canadian equivalent of Episcopal) Church. We like adventure. Wikipedia defines it best:

Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) is a Christian religious service celebrated in the Holy Week within Western Christianity, on the evening before or early morning of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Tenebrae is distinctive for its gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of readings and psalms are chanted or recited.

Very different from the Evangelical service I’d attended almost twelve hours earlier the same day. That one had 1,500 people over 3 services. This one had about 50 of us in a small church building that’s only 4 years away from being 200 years old. No welcome and announcements. No offering. No homily or sermon. No musical instruments. Just 100% scripture, either sung or spoken.

Probably the most striking feature was the use of texts not normally associated with Holy Week. Excerpts from Lamentations, and the use of Psalm 51 (and Psalm 150) seemed unusual given our place in the church calendar. I felt like the idea was to capture the emptiness, the bleakness that The Twelve, the women and the friends of Jesus would have felt at the cross, and that evening, and into Saturday.

What did they talk about? They were scattered somewhat, but they would have had homes to return to. We know some discussed a return to fishing. Did Matthew think about looking up his friends in the Tax Department?

What went through their minds?

That’s my subjective take on it. I can’t speak for what others were thinking. I would love to speak with those who wrote the liturgy.

At the end, the officiants, the choir and the congregation all leave in silence. Actually, we drove several blocks before anyone said anything. I’m a very social person and saw a few people we knew, and normally, on an occasion like this I would have struck up a conversation, but instead we left; us to our home, them to theirs.

My wife described it as “quiet, and thoughtful and centering.”

All in all, it was a service and a form we had never witnessed before where we came with no preconceived notions, no basis of comparison; and left with our thoughts full.


In contrast to the music we heard last night; our video today is a repeat of a song we’ve used here before. At The Foot of the Cross performed by Kathryn Scott.


Yesterday’s post at Christianity 201 started out as a simply copy-and-paste of an older article with a few quick revisions, but was expanded and after and hour of consideration became much more.

March 31, 2015

How Evangelicals Lose the Plot on Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

Maybe you heard the phrase, “At that point, they lost the plot.” Or, “That’s where it went off the rails.”

…I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this three years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable. Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.” Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying. Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us. We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

In another essay here I talked about the equally concerning practice of losing the plot on Easter Sunday.

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 



March 31, 2014

How Evangelicals Miss Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace* the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this two years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable.  Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.”  Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying.  Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

Music plays a big part. In another essay here that referred more directly to Easter Sunday, I quoted:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

 

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 


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March 15, 2014

Conference Crashing

Oh, to be a teen or twenty-something in today’s student ministry environment; to be able to attend Catalyst and Passion and Urbana.

Back to reality: Here’s a great 37-minute clip of John Ortberg addressing the national staff conference of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). Ortberg is such a great speaker; this reminds me of his days at Willow Creek. IVCF is a great organization; I was fortunate work with a branch of the organization many years ago. Together, we serve a great God.

Come conference crashing with me…this video is also very timely if you’re observing lent.

March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:08 pm

good-friday

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

Good Friday is the mirror held up by Jesus so that we can see ourselves in all our stark reality, and then it turns us to that cross and to his eyes and we hear these words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s us! And so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. We see in that cross a love so amazing so divine that it loves us even when we turn away from it, or spurn it, or crucify it. There is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross we see into the heart of God and find it filled with mercy for the sinner whoever he or she may be.

~ Robert G. Trache

Several years ago I was in one of those gatherings where several churches come together for a single Good Friday service. The “mass gathering” effect sometimes overshadows the “Good Friday” message as soloists and worship teams tend to want to want to do things up big on a day that I believe musically calls for minimalism.  As one soloist was belting out the words to what would be a nice song any other day of the year, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me: Sin. We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin. Our propensity to sin. Our sin condition. Our individual sins. The sin that necessitated the cross. Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature. It was our sin and guilt that put Him there. And that reminded me of the words of a song that perhaps he should have sung, the song, “Our God Reigns” reproduced below.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns! Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!

The message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death. The message of Good Friday is that it was our sin that put Him there, our guilt that needed atoning.

Christianity 201, April 22, 2011

ChristOnCross

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