Excerpts from our Good Friday Service – “Gaze at Jesus Until the Darkness Comes”

Here’s some of the gist of tonight’s gathering. There are Scripture readings, cool touchy-feely videos, and extinguishing of candles interspersed between the Responsive Reading and the Closing Thoughts. Very Old School meets New School. And we’re not doing Communion tonight… which is the more original church tradition (i.e., recreate the Last Supper on Thursday.) Protestants have sometimes done the Friday night Lord’s Supper thing. I think we need to reclaim a little of the angst of the original liturgies… with cool videos and candles, of course! You can’t celebrate Resurrection as well without experiencing death. Special thanks to one of my mentors, my predecessor Charles Reese, for some of the service content.

Introduction

Normally, at the beginning of a service, someone stands up here, as I’m doing now, to welcome you with a warm smile and maybe a joke… But tonight, at the beginning of a Good Friday service, welcome seems like a strange word to use, doesn’t it? We don’t say things like, “Welcome everyone to this occasion at which we remember this man’s death!” You just don’t do that. Tonight, “welcome” doesn’t fit.

It doesn’t fit because we have not gathered tonight to celebrate. We don’t sing songs tonight. We don’t read rousing Scripture that lifts us up nor do we speak words that encourage. We don’t partake of the body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Table tonight. Maybe… on the Friday of Christ’s death… maybe we should fast. We should be silent. We should mourn… mourn that we were in that crowd last Sunday, waving branches and yelling, “Hosanna, glory to God in the highest” and that now, here we are, watching… God… die…. We’ve gone from palms of victory to a cross of crushing defeat because of our sinful rebellion against the very One sent to save us. Tonight our role is not a happy one… we read of our betrayal and desertion of our Savior and are reminded of the weight of our sin that sent Christ to the cross.

So “welcome” doesn’t exactly fit. Not tonight… because this evening, while there is still light left, while there is still time left… we are together so we can fix our eyes on our Savior who bore our sin on the cross. Tonight, we want to experience what those first Christians experienced as they stood in wonder and gazed at Jesus until the darkness came… until the darkness of our own sin betrayed our Creator and sent him to the cross.

Opening Prayer

“Lord, we acknowledge at the outset that tonight occurred, not just because the religious and political powers schemed to murder you, but because we also bear responsibility.

We have heard the message. We know the story. But in faithfulness and humility we come together, at the foot of a cross that should’ve been ours… to stand in its shadow… to hear and feel… to sense the story again… to experience anew what you suffered for our sake. Grant that we would quietly and humbly come together to gaze in worship at the lamb who was slain for us.”

A Reponsive Reading

Leader: The Light came.
People: But we preferred the darkness.

Leader: We tried to extinguish the light.
People: We crucified Jesus of Nazareth.

Leader: This is the day of darkness.
People: The Lamb of God will be slain.

ALL: We stand in the shadow of the cross and gaze at Jesus before the light is extinguished. Father, forgive us for extinguishing your light.

Closing Thoughts

Tonight, we have extinguished candles one by one to symbolize the death of Christ and the snuffing out of the life of a man sent to save the world. The darkness symbolizes the feeling of helplessness we experience when sin reigns and we consider that our sin snuffed out our Savior’s life. We have read of our own betrayal of Jesus. We have watched images and heard music that stirs emotion within us. We have taken the time tonight to gaze at Jesus… to quietly focus our attention on what he suffered and gaze at the Messiah, the Anointed One, on the cross.

But…… there… is… hope…. We call it “Good Friday.” The Greek Orthodox Church calls it “Great Friday.” We call it “good” because there is more than just darkness and death. Though we can’t see it now, eventually there is victory. Eventually there is grace and freedom. Eventually it is good.

Even though we might as well have been the original traitor or we could easily have been someone in the crowd cursing and judging Jesus, yelling, “Crucify Him!” Even though we have lived in doubt and despair, skeptical that our Savior could possibly be who He claims, it is Good Friday that brings us hope that Sunday we can partake together as a body around the Lord’s Table… a body of believers made whole by the body and blood sacrificed on Friday. On Sunday we will gather to sing songs of joy and praise. On Sunday we will read Scripture that encourages and affirms that God has done what He said He will do.

Because of Good Friday we have freedom from sin. Because of Good Friday we walk in the light… in the light of love and grace. The death which brought despair has no power and we are justified by the blood of Christ. Because of Good Friday…

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2 Responses

  1. Hey Scott:
    So…I’ll admit I’ve been blog-stalking you for a few months now, but just thought this would be a good time to leave a first comment. I was excited to read that you are incorporating a bit of the liturgical tradition into your church’s service tonight. I am part of an Anglican Community here in Wheaton (Church of the Resurrection) and have been really moved so far by experiencing the church’s Lenten and Holy Week traditions. You are right about the Lord’s Supper: we took it last night at the Maundy Thursday service, as well as feet washing. I just got back from a stations of the cross service which was a very neat way to enter into and pray through the hours preceding Christ’s death. I have found in general that participating in these Anglican traditions for the first time in my life has made this season of Lent and Holy Week an especially somber but spiritually rewarding time for me. I hope you and your congregation also find that true tonight. Blessings, Catie T.

  2. Excellent thoughts!

    May God’s richest blessings be yours as you reflect on the extent of His love demonstrated through the death His Son on the cross and the awesomeness of His power exhibited through the resurrection.

    To God be the glory!

    -bill
    a spiritual oasis

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