Sunday, March 24, 2013

Empty Space is not Empty: The Power of Not Preaching

You may have come here looking for my Palm Sunday sermon, and now, here you are, and there's no sermon.

No, I wasn't sick.

Our deacon wasn't preaching.

No one else was preaching.

There was no sermon.

As I was preparing the script for the reading of the Passion last week, with all of its beauty and power and range of emotions, I wondered what I could say that would add to it.

And I came up with...nothing. Not the same kind of nothing you feel when you are in the midst of preparing a sermon and there are no fresh ideas, no compelling message, no clever "hook."

No, this was something different. It was clear to me that there was nothing I could say that would give the folks in the pews more than the reading itself, God's Word.

Now, I must admit that when I thought of NOT preaching on one of the signal Sundays of the church year, I was stricken with the fantods.* Would my parishioners think I was simply lazy, not preparing a sermon for Palm Sunday? Would they feel cheated, since they (generally) like what I preach?

But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that we should simply have a time of meditation and then a meditation hymn afterwards, so we could let the story sink into our bones.

And so we did. We sat in silence for a bit. There was none of the usual anxiety over how long we would meditate, would people get antsy, how long to wait before we started the hymn. We simply sat and thought, and it was blessed silence. And then we sang.

The meditation hymn was #458 from the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. The text is exquisite, the creation of the poet Samuel Crossman (1624-1683):

My song is love unknown, my Savior's love to me, 
love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow,
but men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know.
But O my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need, his life did spend.

Sometimes they strew his way, and his strong praises sing,
resounding all the day  hosannas to their King.
Then "Crucify!" is all their breath, and for his death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these themselves displease, and 'gainst him rise.

They rise, and needs will have my dear Lord made away;
a murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet steadfast he to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine:
never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend. 

And so the rest of the service of Holy Eucharist proceeded. We had our gathering at the table, our remembrance of that first eucharistic feast. There was a sense of calm and peace beyond the norm.

And I think one of the contributing factors to that mood was the time of silent meditation in lieu of a sermon.

People needed that time to process the horrific story of Jesus' Passion and death without mediation or explanation from me, or any other preacher, and they appreciated it.

Even someone who is  occasionally cynical about liturgy said that it was the most powerful experience of Palm Sunday she had ever had. Others had similar comments.

Does this mean that I will stop preaching? No, even though there might be a few folks in my parish who would be glad if that happened. I still think that part of my vocation is to teach, exhort, explain, question, rejoice, aggravate, light a fire beneath...and that means I preach.

But it is a good thing every now and again to NOT preach. To let the people feel the Word filling all the empty spaces in them, to wonder at it, to fall in love with it, to hear, really hear.

There is power in not preaching, I think. Not in relief from work for me, but in helping others realize that they are capable of hearing and interpreting on their own. That's a good and necessary part of my work.

But I will be preaching this week, several times, and will most definitely be preaching Christ's Resurrection next Sunday. And now I think I'd better turn to my sermon preparation for the days to come...

A blessed Holy Week to you all.

*Fantod: fan·tod, [fan-tod] 
Usually, fantods. a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the  ): We all developed the fantods when the plane was late in arriving.
See Edward Gorey's "Mystery" lady, slapping about on top of a coffin whimpering and moaning. 

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