In the Methodist Church preachers rotate around their circuit, preaching at many different churches each year.
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A favourite speaker at Greenbelt when I attended in my ‘20s, was Tony Campolo. His catchphrase was, ‘Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming’. I can’t remember anything else he said but that phrase has stuck with me. It’s been something I’ve considered when preparing worship for those who attend a church service only on Sundays, for those who worship on Palm Sunday and then not again until Easter Sunday, and who for whatever reason do not sit with Christ’s Passion on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. I am uneasy with a theology that calls us ‘Easter People’, that glosses over the pain and agony of Holy Week, that forgets that death came before resurrection.
In recent years as I have struggled with my health, my focus has shifted again to ponder Holy Saturday, a day of inaction enforced by Sabbath law, a place of absolute desolation, betrayal, grief and confusion, an uneasy space that many of us find ourselves in in the messiness of human existence. This uncomfortable space is something that some branches of the Church seem to deny exists for ‘good Christians’, that if we trust in God and pray the right prayers, we will be untouchable.
As a young Christian, faith was simple. Christ suffered on the cross and died to pay the price for our sins. Since training as a presbyter, I have struggled with how to preach Christ crucified during Lent and Easter. I can no longer believe in a loving God who would deliberately submit his Son to such a cruel death. How could that be part of God’s plan?
I want to sit in the agony of Holy Saturday with those of us whose loved ones have died too young. I want to sit in the agony of Holy Saturday with those living through war and conflict. I want to sit in the agony of Holy Saturday with those living in poverty because politicians are more concerned with how they will be perceived than caring about the people they serve. I want to sit in the agony of Holy Saturday with those who have experienced injustice because of who they are, made in the image of God, in their glorious diversity of race, gender, disability or sexuality. I want to sit in the agony of Holy Saturday with those who have been so badly hurt by the Church, that they are no longer part of a Christian community.
One of my favourite theological words is ‘eschatology’. I love the way it rolls around in my mouth, but I also resonate with its meaning. The idea that we live in the ‘now but not yet’ of God’s kin-dom, that despite the agony of Holy Saturday in which many of us live, there is sometimes a glimpse of hope, a shaft of light which bursts through. That welcome hug, that knowing smile, that unexpected text or phone call. That special something that was just what we needed just when we needed it. That God-incidence that picks us up and helps us take the next tentative step or even the next breath.
At the end of January, I was privileged to be on retreat with the chair of the East Anglia district as he brought alive for us the person and wisdom of Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century anchoress and mystic, most famous for the much-used quote, ‘All shall be well’. I arrived on retreat feeling very vulnerable and wounded by people’s words and behaviour. I left still hurting but with an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me, and the need to continue to act with love to try to ‘be’ love despite all I had experienced. And that, for me, is what I want to preach this Lent and Easter – God’s infinite and boundless love for all - however we might feel about individuals. How the Holy Spirit works! For this is the theme already set by the Connexional team, resources that I will need to draw from in those moments when I can only love by the grace of God.
Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Rev’d Deborah Humphries
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