I had been planning something else for my sermon today, but then Friday I woke up from a dream that kept intruding on all my attempts at sermon-writing all morning. Finally I realized that perhaps that was the point—that the dream had been given to me as a gift to share with you all.
Before I go into Friday’s dream, I need to tell you about one I had during Holy Week. I dreamt that someone had been going through old ordination files and found that there was something wrong with my paperwork. In order to continue as a priest and pastor, I would need to resubmit this one form to the Standing Committee—the committee in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine that has to give the final OK to the bishop to proceed with ordaining a person—a committee I chaired for three years! I submitted the paperwork, and received back from them a polite, “Well, no, thank you.”
It was one of those really odd dreams that felt frighteningly real. So real that I had to get up and walk around for half an hour, just to shake it off. I stormed around the house, raving about how I had been ordained longer than the three clergy people on the committee combined, that my best friend who is also on this committee, had done me wrong…I finally settled down, reminded myself it was all a dream, and went back to bed, able to laugh at myself.
But I’ll admit there had still been some lingering doubt hovering in the far corner of my mind. What was that all about? I wondered. Why would I be second-guessing myself at this point, 17 years later?
So when I woke up from Friday’s dream I felt a considerable sense of relief. Whatever had been bothering me, I seemed to have worked through it!
In this dream, I was wrapping up the end of a long Holy Week by puttering around the sanctuary, getting ready for Easter. Now I need to clarify—the church building that appears in such dreams is not one I have ever actually been in. This one was a combination of churches I have served in the past, German cathedrals, and the glorious place I visited last week while I was in Massachusetts on vacation. It was big with a good-sized vestibule beyond a set of doors through which I could not see.
So there I was, getting ready to go home, put my feet up and re-orient myself toward Easter and Alleluias…and those doors swung open. There were people on the other side of it. A lot of people.
Including the bishop, the dean of the cathedral in Portland, and a person who we were all referring to as Michael Ambler, the bishop’s assistant, but wasn’t actually him
I thought I was done with Good Friday, but apparently I was not.
So I welcomed them in, and mentally scrambled to prepare for one more Good Friday service.
I discovered that the bishop was expecting me to do communion from reserve sacrament—something I never do—and when I lifted up the cloth covering the plate, discovered that what I was supposed to be offering them was iced, cross-shaped sugar cookies. That was peculiar.
But I rolled with it. I tried to convince the bishop to preach and preside but he informed me he was there to just receive. It was all up to me. The bishop, the dean of the cathedral and the Michael-Not-Michael all smiled sweetly and expectantly at me, and sat down in the front pew.
And people just kept coming. People I knew, people I didn’t know. Frail elderly people and energetic little children. They were all filling up this space, waiting for me to offer them some appropriate word on this Good Friday I had been so ready to leave behind. By the time the service started there had to have been 100 people there.
I gulped, said a prayer and stepped into the pulpit. The message that poured out of me was this:
I’m not sure why you think you are here today, what you are hoping to hear. But I do know this. We are not here to be scolded for our sins or our imperfections. We are not here to be told we are wretched creatures who should be ashamed of ourselves. We are not here to be reminded of our own brokenness. We are here to be reminded of God’s love.
This day is not about our failures, but God’s faithfulness. This day is just as much about the incarnation as our joyful Christmas celebrations last December. Death is as much a part of human life as birth is. It was part of the deal—when God chose to live as one of us, God chose to die as one of us. Crucifixion may not have been part of the original plan, but what we remember today is that when it became clear that it would end on a cross, God stuck with us. God did not abandon us.
And so the cross is the reminder that God will never abandon us. Whenever the world throws its worst at us—be it war, disaster, chaos or cancer—we can cling to the assurance that God is right there in the middle of it all. We are not alone.
In the intersection between what we hoped would happen and what really did happen—God is with us.
That’s what makes Good Friday good.
I woke up before I saw anybody’s reaction, but I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t be fretting about that earlier dream anymore.
In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples are still seeing the world through the lens of the Crucifixion. So when Jesus appears among them in the upper room, having passed through a locked door, they use categories of death to explain it. He must be a ghost, a sad wisp of what was leftover.
And Jesus offers them a whole new way to understand. He is not a ghost, he is not a remnant of the past. He is something completely new. Something they don’t have words for yet.
At the bottom of my research notes this week, I jotted this down:
A thought: if Jesus can pass through doors, why did the stone need to be rolled away?
Perhaps not for HIS benefit, but for OURS. Not an escape from death but an entrance into a whole new life.
The point of the Resurrection was to show us that God is offering us a whole new way of being. Not just in the next life, but in this one.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now, what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.”
And hey, maybe there will be cookies!