Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

When I first started going to St. Mary’s, Manhattanville, we did not have a three hour service on Good Friday. Rex and I used to go to one of the larger churches in Manhattan to hear some outstanding preaching of the passion.

Then, around 1970, we started doing the three hours at St. Mary’s, usually with meditations by several persons. On three or four Good Friday’s in the past four decades I have given one of the meditations. This afternoon, Liz will be giving a meditation. I’m looking forward to it.

For many years, both Liz and I sang in the choir at St. Mary’s. This year we have been recruited to assist in singing Randall Thompson’s Alleluia on Easter. On both Wednesday and Thursday we were there for rehearsals preceding the Tenebrae and Maundy Thursday services, and we added our voices to the choir for those services (in which the choir didn’t vest but sat in the congregation.)

I read at both services. At Tenebrae on Wednesday I read from “The Treatise of Saint Augustine the Bishop on the Psalms” and at the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday I read the lesson from Exodus. I am not a great fan of foot washing. Since we have begun doing the foot washing ceremony at St. Mary’s, I have had various responses. Some years I enter into it – other years I sit it out. This happened to be a year that I sat it out. I think part of my problem with it is that in a culture and at a time of year when everyone wears shoes – it being too cold for sandals or flip flops – the artificiality of foot washing overrides the symbolism, so it just seems strange.

As I mentioned on Palm Sunday, I have been doing a lot of reading in the works of John Dominic Crossan. Following Crossan (and many other Christian scholars and theologians), I fully believe that it is a mistake to read the passion narratives as history. They are stories that contain truth – not historical truth but truth nonetheless. I pity people whose faith is so weak that they have to believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

Was there a man called Jesus? Yes. Was he executed under Pontius Pilate? Yes. Do we know the particulars of his arrest? No. Was there a trial? It’s not likely. Was he crucified? Almost certainly. How was he buried? Most likely not in a new tomb; perhaps not at all.

What about the resurrection? Historically, we have no idea . We do have the testimony of Paul that Jesus appeared, first to others and then to him. As a Christian, I believe in the resurrection, not as a metaphor but as something that was actually experienced by the first Christians. But that is a topic for Easter. Today is the day we re-experience the tremendous loss when Jesus was taken from us, humiliated, tortured, and brutally killed.

Ah! Holy Jesus. How hast thou offended?

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