Call to Worship/Psalm 91 (NRSV)
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them and show them my salvation.
Journey with us, O holy God, as we continue our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Scripture Lesson/John 19:17-22 (NRSV)
17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
There were many witnesses to the events which took place on that hill outside Jerusalem two-thousand years ago. An angry crowd gathered to be certain that their verdict of “guilty” be carried out in the sentence of death by crucifixion. A small group of the condemned man’s followers milled about the crowd; still in shock over the injustice being meted out, many of them kept their identity secret to protect themselves from a similar fate. And some had to be there—those responsible for tending to the necessary tasks which went along with an execution.
But there were other “witnesses” as well, ones we don’t usually think about, although they were even closer to the events than the crowd. In fact, they actually participated in those events in unique ways. They are the Silent Witnesses. If only these things could speak! What might they tell us about the events from their viewpoint? Today, we will hear from The Nail.
It wasn’t easy, becoming me. To you, I’m just a nail. I started out as a bunch of reddish colored iron ore dust pressed into a mass of rock and other minerals. Once I was discovered and dug out from the place where I had been sitting for millennia, I was transported to the smelter. There, I was extricated from the rock, using a great deal of heat to separate me from all the other minerals to which I had been attached. Once the impurities had been burned away, I was heated again, becoming liquified and poured into a mold—that’s how I got my shape. After all of the pressure and heat, we nails just get piled up with others of our kind in a box or barrel…and wait and wait…until someone needs us. After all that initial trauma, we have a pretty boring life. I mean, we were created for a purpose, to hold things together a rather simple concept given the laws of physics, but we have to wait around until someone figures out what project they need us for. And even then, once we are secured into place, we’re stuck where we are until we either disintegrate into rust or pulled from the materials we we’re holding in place. Life for us nails could be described as dull and dreary.
But we do have dreams, exciting ones at that. With all the waiting we had to do, we had to keep our minds occupied some way or another. So, we dreamed. Dreamed of being used in the construction of a fine building or maybe even a palace or at least a monument of some sort…but more likely, a cow stall or, even worse, an outhouse. Gives me shivers to think about that one. While we’re very useful, we aren’t well respected. Let’s face it, we’re kind of cold and unfeeling and, to be honest, rather hard-headed. People disrespect us when they say that someone is “as hard as nails.” People talk about being so angry that they could “spit nails!” Now that’s just plain disgusting. It’s also a bit humiliating to think that we require a hammer in order to serve our purpose. No one really likes being dependent on something or someone else. I’ve heard that some people are like nails in that they have to be hit on the head in order to get their attention. But that’s enough about me. You want to hear about what I witnessed that tumultuous day.
We’ll I was just resting on the pile with the other nails when a soldier came over and reached into box and grabbed three of us. He wasn’t particular about the ones he grabbed; see, I’m not special, there is nothing unique about me—nails are basically clones of one another—products of the same mold. For a few moments, I got my hopes up. I thought I was finally going to be used in some important way. After all, it was a government official who needed me and two associates. Surely, we would be used for some essential reason.
But my dream shattered quickly as if I had been made of glass instead of tempered iron. As soon as my head was out of the box, I could see that this wasn’t an ordinary building project. Something more sinister, something darker was going on. It was called crucifixion, a type of capital punishment favored by the Romans because it was slow and painful, making an example of the condemned criminal in public as a warning to all who might disobey Roman law or threatening to Roman power. When I saw that wooden post that was sticking vertically out of the ground, all my hopes and dreams were dashed in front of me. In this circumstance, there was nothing of any lasting value that could come from my use. Being attached to a wooden post on top of the city trash heap—Golgotha in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin—the place of the skull—held no promise for me at all. The only comforting thought I could find was wondering about the type of wood in which I would find my new home. Would they struggle pounding me into a hard wood like locust, or would it be a gentler transition into a softer wood like, say, cedar?
But things got even worse—worse than I could have ever imagined. I found out that I wasn’t going to hold two pieces of wood together to form a cross. No, I was to hold a human being to the cross. That’s how it was done, you see: criminals were nailed to the cross. I could hear the crowd that gathered there yelling “Crucify him!” shaking their fists with white hot rage. A smaller group of other bystanders cried out for his release: “He’s guilty of no crime! He’s innocent! You can’t kill and innocent man!” It was an ugly scene. I began to feel sick at my stomach thinking that I might be an accessory to a grave injustice. This was my worst nightmare coming true. The thought of having to connect human flesh with wood is bad enough, but of that human being killed for no real reason made me quiver in the solder’s hands. I felt him shaking a bit, too, particularly unnerved from all the attention this execution was drawing. It seemed that our thoughts may not have been that far apart. I was ready to crumble into a pile of rust and return to dust again. This isn’t what I had imagined for my life.
The time came all too soon. I had complained about not being used for years, and now I’d much rather be back in the box with my peers. What’s the saying you humans sometimes sarcastically use? “Be careful what you wish for?” Anyway, the soldier presented us to the handful of other soldiers at the foot of the upright post. One of them, wielding a hammer in one hand roughly grabbed me and took me over to the condemned man who had been stretched out on the ground with his arms along the crossbar. He was lying there, hands open, his eyes red from the lack of sleep encircled with bruises of blue and black from the continuous physical abuse he had been receiving. I didn’t like this at all. I had never seen one before, but this guy didn’t look like what I had envisioned a criminal to be. He kept looking longingly up into the sky as if he were hoping for some relief to come from the clouds for his anguish. As I was being pushed into the palm of the man’s hand, I wondered: “What if he is really innocent? I mean, I don’t want to be used to hurt anyone, much less someone who was being unjustly killed.” You see, we nails are all about connection. We are used for bringing things together, for constructive purposes, not destructive ones. And, speaking of connection, this man seemed to be so alone, so isolated, even with all the attention, all the people looking on. It’s like he had been deserted by everyone who had ever cared about him. Sure, he had a few allies around, a handful of women, but they stood away, at some distance from the caustic cacophony of chaotic crowd. (I bet you didn’t know that we nails were good at alliteration. I call it channeling my “inner Spiro Agnew.”
As I drew ever closer, I noticed that his hands were open, not clenched in fists of final defiance. That struck me as odd. But then again, this whole situation was odd. His hands weren’t clenched in anger at all, but in an almost open acquiescence. From the very microsecond my point touched his skin, I felt a peculiar strength, as if he could have resisted even the pressure of cold iron. There was a softness to this man. From what limited information I had, it seemed to me that one in such a vulnerable position would be kicking and screaming, cursing and striking back. He was a living paradox. In one of the most vulnerable positions and places a human could ever find himself, he maintained an inner strength and composure. He exuded a warmth that defied explanation. And I thought to myself, this must be what human beings refer to as “love.” My job was to be hard and pointed, but I felt as if I were back in that smelter, pliable, malleable, flexible, words you would never use to describe things found in the hardware section of your local Home Depot.
But there was something else that I noticed, too…a moment of DeJa’Vu. Something was eerily familiar about him. I couldn’t place it at first, but then it hit me. This hand felt very much like the one I had felt before. You see, three years ago I was in the nail box of a carpenter—waiting to be used by him. Well, his son who worked with him and who seemed to be learning the trade, reached into the box one day and pulled me out. Just as he was about to strike me with the hammer, someone came up to him and told him news about a prophet—a John “Somebody”—who was baptizing people in the Jordan River. The carpenter’s son quickly put me back in the box and said something very confusing. He said, “It’s time to be about my Father’s business.” Then he left the shop and headed out on his way. If a nail could be flummoxed, I certainly was. Why would he say he was going to be about his father’s business and then leave his father’s shop—his business—and head off to God-knows-where?
I’ll spare you the darker details of the next three hours, but suffice it to say, things happened more quickly than I had thought. About three o’clock, the sky got really dark, like it does before a bad thunderstorm. There was no rain, but you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. I saw no lightning but felt the earth tremble as if a violent thunderclap had rippled across its surface. And then, I looked over and saw that he was gone. I had held him to the cross for through the whole ordeal, until some of his friends came and removed his body from it and pulled me and the other nails from his lifeless hands and feet. We were tossed aside like a farmer throwing an unwanted rock from the furrow he is ploughing. And that’s it.
Oh, the weather and time are taking their toll on me. But I don’t mind it too much. After all, I’m used to waiting. I began as dust and I’m returning to dust—and there’s some degree of comfort in that. For me, it’s like starting over again. As I understand things, you too will join me in returning to dust. All things do, I guess. But because of what happened that day, the day when I was taken out of the box and used in the killing of that innocent man, that strong yet vulnerable and loving man, you have been commissioned with the same purpose and power that we nails have, the ability to connect with others. You have been given the opportunity to share what you have, your gifts and your graces, your resources, and your heart with others, to share life in its fullness, in all its glories and all its sufferings, to raise your open hands along with the nail scarred hands of this man, against the world’s injustices and use the wounds that you have experienced in life to help heal and comfort those around you. His death reveals the very essence of sacrificial love and self-giving you are called to offer others.
And then one day, rising from that dust once again, you will find that, as I had been transformed by the heat and the pressure of the smelter, you will be transformed into something beyond your wildest dreams by the love of the Creator, the God who breathed the very breath of life into your lungs at the beginning and who loved you so much that you have been given the life abundant and life eternal in the gift of this man who went about his Father’s business. If you have come to know and experience the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus Christ, well then, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.
The Great Thanksgiving
The Lord be with us.
Let us up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.
You brought all things into being and called them good.
From the dust of the earth you formed us into your image and breathed into us the breath of life.
When we turned away, and our love failed, your love remained steadfast.
When rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, you bore up the ark on the waters, saved Noah and his family, and made covenant with every living creature on earth.
When you led your people to Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, you gave us your commandments and made us your covenant people.
When your people forsook your covenant, your prophet Elijah fasted for forty days and forty nights; and on your holy mountain, he heard your still small voice.
And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
Holy are you and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ. When you gave him to save us from our sin, your Spirit led him into the wilderness, where he fasted forty days and forty nights to prepare for his ministry.
When he suffered and died on a cross for our sin, you raised him to life, presented him alive to the apostles during forty days, and exalted him at your right hand.
By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.
Now, when we your people prepare for the yearly feast of Easter, you lead us to repentance for sin and the cleansing of our hearts, that during these forty days of Lent we may be gifted and graced to reaffirm the covenant you made with us through Christ.
On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever. Amen.
And now, with the confidence of children of God, let us pray:
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Breaking the Bread
Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.
The cup over which we give thanks is a sharing in the blood of Christ.
Sharing the Bread & Cup
Prayer after Communion
Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With the promise of life before us, and the grace of God beside us, and the love of God within us, send us now, O Lord, out into the world to live lives of faithfulness.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.