From Crossan to Spong: +Johnston Cares [Not] for His Sheep
Presented without comment (not even a “we tried to tell you” for those who still were not convinced):
“A New Plan for Good Friday” | by Bishop John Shelby Spong
Reclaiming Good Friday as a major focus of both Lent and the Christian story will be at the center of my life this year, when I spend that day in Richmond, Virginia, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. This is the church I served as Rector from 1969-1976 and it is a church to which I am still deeply and emotionally connected, even some thirty four years after leaving that position….
On an average day in the work week, within a six block radius of St. Paul’s an estimated 100,000 people will be at work in their offices. So through the years, St. Paul’s has offered noonday services, concerts and forums, to which many in this working population have been drawn. This ministry is uniquely focused during the season of Lent, when a noontime half-hour preaching service is held during the forty days of that season. A luncheon is served in St. Paul’s before and after the service, which requires more than 300 volunteers a week, to enable people to attend worship and have lunch within the span of an hour. People from a wide range of Christian traditions come to these services and the daily attendance will range from 100 to 700 people….
The traditional pattern of the past was a three hour [Good Friday] service scheduled from noon to 3:00 p.m., designed to mark the time when Jesus was believed to be dying on the cross [sic]....
This year, St. Paul’s in Richmond decided to try to reverse that trend. A church in the heart of a vibrant downtown filled with people at work might be able to revive this tradition and thus serve all of the suburban churches, where fewer and fewer people are present during the hours of the working day. If successful, a church in the heart of every city in America might follow suit. So these are St. Paul’s plans.
First, the three-hour service is planned as a series of six thirty minute self-contained units, making it possible and convenient for people to come and go from work on the hour or half hour. While some will attend the entire three hours, most will fit their Good Friday observance into their workday schedules.
Second, each of the thirty minute services will include concert level Passiontide music….
Third, the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston [emphasis added], will preside over the entire service, assisted by the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, the current rector of St. Paul’s. The presence of the Bishop gives the service a larger appeal beyond the boundaries of St. Paul’s congregation….
My role in this service will be to deliver six meditations, one in each of the six thirty minute services. As we live through these three hours, I will seek to invite people into the meaning of the Passion story as it was told by the author of the Fourth Gospel that we call John. Specifically, I will try to move the Christian Church away from that threadbare Good Friday format of the past that focused on what was called “The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” Those “Words” were never anything more than an attempt to force the gospels into a blended narrative, which makes a mockery out of current biblical scholarship. The overwhelming probability is that the dying Jesus never uttered any one of these “seven last words.” The absolute certainty is that he never uttered all of them….
When John, the final gospel, was written (95-100), he dismissed all of the previous “words” recorded in the earlier gospels and added three new ones never heard of before: “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother;” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” “The Seven Last Words” thus represent a forced unity that the gospels never had and they are, we now know, quite inauthentic. My hope will be that in future Good Friday services the Passion story will be developed according to Mark one year, Matthew the next year, Luke the third year, John the fourth year and then continue the rotation. The authenticity of the individual gospel accounts will thus be restored to Good Friday.
I hope this service sets an example that brings a new biblical understanding of the Passion of Jesus and that it restores Good Friday to a central place in the Church’s life….
Well, I will allow this one comment: all this fascination about the drama of the Passion from an Episcopal bishop who does not believe in the physical Resurrection, the Atonement, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Star of Bethlehem, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, or even that Jesus spoke and read Greek. So Bishop Johnston must think that his flock needs to make no connection between Good Friday and Easter, because according to John Shelby Spong, P.B.K., M.Div., D.D. (hon. causa), no such connection ever existed. Good Friday is for black and Bach; Easter is for frocks and flowers.
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