Tony Campolo is a writer, teacher and preacher, a white man who belongs to a black church in West Philadelphia. Mt. Carmel Baptist, he says, is “the closest thing to heaven this side of the pearly gates.”
Campolo tells the story of a little preaching competition he had with the old black pastor at Mt.Carmel on Good Friday. It was the Three Hours, featuring seven preachers. Dr. Campolo tells how he preached like a man on fire, taking the congregation to the heights of glory. Then he sat down beside the pastor, patted him on the knee and said, “Top that.” The gray-haired preacher looked at him and said, “Boy, watch the master.”
He started out softly and it was a simple sermon—with only one line. But for an hour and half he preached that line over and over. For an hour and a half he stood that congregation on its ear with just one line: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!” In a whisper he began, “It’s Friday; it was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s comin’!
One of the deacons yelled, “Preach, brother! Preach!”
He picked up the volume just a bit. “It was Friday. The cynics were lookin’ at the world and sayin’, ‘As things have been so they shall be. You can’t change anything in this world; you can’t change anything.’ But those cynics didn’t know it was only Friday. Sunday’s comin’!”
Now louder. “It was Friday! And on Friday those forces that oppress the poor and make the poor to suffer were in control. But that was Friday! Sunday’s comin’!”
Women were waving their hands in the air and calling softly, “Well, well.” Some of the men were yelling, “Keep going! Keep going!”
Now the old preacher was shouting, “It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin’ around, laughin’ and pokin’ each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things, but they didn’t know it was only Friday! Sunday’s comin’!”
He worked that phrase over and over until the congregation was on its feet, finishing his sentences. At the end of his message he just tipped his head back and yelled, “IT’S FRIDAY!” And all five hundred people in the church yelled back as one, “BUT SUNDAY’S COMIN’!”
The liturgy of the black church is a world away from ours, but it works. And how. It draws worshipers out of themselves and into the drama of God’s salvation. It was Friday, and that congregation was acutely aware of the darkness of the cross and of all human suffering. But the power of God was pulling them through suffering into glory. They knew in their bones that Friday is not the last word, not the last day.
It’s Saturday already, but Sunday’s comin’!