Today is Good Friday, the day on which Christians mark the crucifixion and death of Jesus. On my morning walk, I thought of all the churches I’ve had the blessing to worship with over the years.
As a child growing up on the Mexico-Texas border, our church would worship once or twice a year with a neighboring United Methodist congregation, with songs, prayers and the sermon in Spanish. At that time, Spanish was looked down on by the leaders in the community. My first taste of wine came when I was 14, during communion at my friend’s Episcopal church, and I remember being shocked that they didn’t use Welch’s Grape Juice – grape juice for communion was all I’d known until then!
During seminary, I was invited to join a General Board of Global Ministries “mission study tour” to southeast Asia. In Cambodia we worshiped at two Methodist churches. Holy Spirit United Methodist Church in Phnom Penh had Bible study classes and worship in the morning. It was a city church, and people dressed in their finest clothes and the children’s choir sang a special song. Later that afternoon we worshiped with Takdol Methodist Church, sponsored by the Swiss Methodist Church. Their building was built over a fish pond, which the church used to sell fish both to help feed the community and to support their ministries. So many children came to the worship service, with broad smiles and laughter. The music and sermon were amplified, so that anyone walking by would hear the songs and good news.
There are so many others that come to mind – a quiet stone chapel in the Texas Hill Country, a century old wooden church in rural Minnesota, an open air pavilion with the sound of waves accompanying our prayers. What each of these have in common is that the people gathered to worship God, and to focus on God’s grace given to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In The New Handbook Of The Christian Year there is a beautiful description of Christian worship:
“Christian worship occurs in the midst of ever-flowing human time. Each worship occasion is unique. The same group of people never meet twice for worship in the context of the same world situation. Never again will they assemble for worship with exactly the same concerns they bring this week. In worship we try not to escape time but to see all history as God’s time.”
When we gather for Christian worship, we each bring the concerns of our lives and our understandings of the world around us. The word “liturgy” means the work of the people, and thus we see that each worship service allows for the people of a particular place and time to bring their context before God, in their own language and with their own concerns.
As you gather for Good Friday worship with your church family, as you prepare for Easter Sunday worship, remember that when you worship the Spirit enables you to see beyond yourself to the transcendent God, God who loves the world, Christ who sacrifices for the world, the Spirit who reveals God’s reconciling love to us. No matter the style of the building or the rhythm of the music, no matter the language of the prayers, no matter which translation of scripture is read, the people gather to praise God and be made ready to go forth into the world at witnesses of God’s grace.
May your Good Friday and Easter worship be a blessing to you and to all who know you.
Quote, page 35: The New Handbook of the Christian Year, edited by Hoyt L. Hickman, Don E. Sailers, Laurence Hull Stookey, & James F. White, Abingdon Press 1992