Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Gleanings 11) A great day for the piano player

(Still waiting biopsy results...soon!)  In my record collection I used to have a Duke Ellington disc, recorded live, and on the back of the record sleeve it said: 'A great day for the piano player' as it described the extraordinary circumstances of the particular live recording.  For a preacher there should be many great days but in my first year I discovered the thrilling dynamics of preaching at Easter. Looking back at these first sermons I catch the wonder and privilege.  I see several features that were to prove true for the rest of my ministry.

First, through the pacing of Lent and Sundays after Easter the gospel account of Jesus' last days captured me and gave such energy to re-enacting the agony and triumph of Easter. That wonder has never left me. I had reveled in my first Christmas but preaching at Easter became so significant for me that right up until the last couple of years (when I have sat in the pew) I have preached every Easter. That's over 46 years in very varied contexts - UK churches, festivals, and US churches of different stripes. Titles of those first sermons include: The Inescapable Cross (John 12:20-32), The courage of Jesus, Blessed are the meek (Zech. 9:9-12,Mark 11: 1-11), The Silences (Mt. 26:14-29,36-46) Die with him to live with him (John 20: 1-20; Rom 6:3-11), Is God alive today? , Full of gloom? (Luke 24:13-35).

Second, Easter morning was also a believer's baptismal service - with the Romans 6 text.  Janet, Kathleen and Brian were baptized and in the evening shared their conviction that God is alive today. It was a thrilling way to testify to being Easter people right there and then.  This was another element that was repeated right through my ministry - combining the Easter story and its transforming message with contemporary transformed people.  In honesty I must admit that some of the congregation objected through the years.  As one person forcefully told me: 'Having baptisms really spoils the day with its great hymns and family holiday spirit!'

Third, I was introduced to witnessing with other Christians in dramatic ways. On Palm Sunday 1973 the Blackburn churches set off from 6 assembly points to walk through the city for a service in the Cathedral.  I shall never forget the excitement of seeing so many coming together and the Provost exhorting us to shout out: Jesus is King!  At a later Easter I was the cathedral preacher for the day and the Provost (who became a good friend) said it was a real Baptist preach!  What did he mean?

Oh, yes, a great day for the preacher.

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