NO MATTER HOW MANY Presbyterian Holy Week worship services my husband dutifully attends, it isn’t Holy Week for him if he doesn’t worship at least once in his native Episcopal tradition. He came home at 5:30 on Good Friday with several service times researched. He asked as nonchalantly as possible. “Do you want to go to one of these?” And, I thought, no, not really, but, the better part of me said a reluctant, “Yes.”
We picked a service and arrived at the church, one we’d never been to before. There were very few cars. There were no people headed into the sanctuary, but we could see that the red doors were slightly ajar. We walked in and took an order of service and sat down. There were a total of nine people present, including the priest. The service began. It was simple: Scripture readings, silence, a reading of the passion narrative from John. One man was the narrator, one woman read the part of Jesus, another man was everybody else: Pilate, Jews, Priests, Peter, they all had one voice, which, when you think about it, was accurate.
At one point in the service the priest went out and brought in, by herself, a large, bulky, wooden cross that she awkwardly maneuvered to the rail that led into the chancel. She was attempting to lean it against said rail and was having a tough time getting it balanced. Finally, the priest gently released the cross and it stood, still leaning, but upright, steady enough that she walked away and began a very brief sermon. She threw out the Greek word that is translated, “It is finished.” The word is tetelestai. That is the final word of Jesus in John’s passion narrative and when she tossed out that word I remembered … I remembered that it means not “it is finished,” as in, “it is over.” It means “it is finished,” as in, “it is completed, fulfilled, perfected, accomplished.”
That’s the Easter proclamation that we can make even on Good Friday. It is accomplished. God’s work in Christ is completed and therefore, resurrection is unstoppable. That means all those times and places when we’ve said it’s finished, as in, it’s over, done, dead and buried, Jesus says, “Wait just a minute, it is not over, because everything, all of creation, is wrapped up in what God completed, fulfilled, accomplished through me. So stop anticipating death, remember my words, and open yourself to resurrection life.”
That’s our Easter challenge. Remember Jesus’ words and anticipate resurrection even when everything else in all creation cries, “It’s over!”
The last thing the nine of us did together in that wor- ship service on Friday evening was pray. The bulletin read, “We pray for people everywhere, according to their needs.” We prayed for all the world’s leaders. We prayed for all members of Christ’s holy church, ALL of them. We prayed for prisoners and for the sick, the hungry and the oppressed. All of them, too. We prayed for all nations of the earth and all peoples of the earth. All of them!
It seemed presumptuous, I mean, there were only nine of us, and we were praying for the whole entire world! I looked around during the prayer and I saw the wonky, wooden cross leaning on the stair rail, and row after row of empty pews, and the few of us scattered in the midst of them, and, frankly, it was almost laughable that we had the audacity to pray for all people everywhere … . But then I remembered Jesus’ words … it is finished … it is fulfilled … reconciliation has happened … resurrection is on the way. I bowed my head and prayed with peace and confidence because we were almost finished and Easter was surely coming.
JILL DUFFIELD is associate pastor for discipleship at Shandon Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.