Good Friday, 2013

Words of welcome and explanation

We call this day Good Friday, but it never seems good to us.

Today, we hear again a story of betrayal, misunderstanding, power, and powerlessness.

Today we reconnect with a story of denial and death – a story that moves us and mystifies us.

Today is the day that was cannot do without, because it takes great sadness to appreciate joy; we need to encounter fear to truly understand our freedom.  The bleak lines describing Jesus’ Passion in the Gospel according to John are preparing us for the dazzling light of Easter morning, but more than that, the lessons of this day give us hope as we live our lives in the presence of power, oppression, ignorance and fear.

So listen to the story, soak up the silence – sing again the mournful hymns – and let us imagine how we might follow Jesus, even on this fateful day.  Let us pray.

The Christ candle is lit

Opening prayer

Hymn – 230 – Go to dark Gethsemane (v. 1-2)

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus – (John 18: 1-11)

Hymn – 230 – Go to dark Gethsemane (v. 3)

Jesus before the High Priest – (John 18: 12-14)

First reflection:

“Go and do what you must.”  That is how Jesus sent Judas into the night, and Judas returns with the law.  Jesus has been playing with fire – stirring up the safe and sacred balance between the conquering Romans and the conquered people of Israel.  The Romans were harsh and most of the population was in survival mode.  If you were wiling to compromise, you could prosper, but the cost to personal (and religious) integrity was high.  Too high, Jesus said.  And in his constant appeal for repentance, for change, and with a promise of a new kingdom coming, Jesus offered hope to those who could not see past the grim reality of Rome.  This hope demanded action – and action, especially by the poor and insignificant – is disruptive.  So the people who feel threatened – the powerful, the self-appointed guardians of righteousness – everyone who benefits by the status quo are moved to action.  Put a stop to this renegade teacher, this man of God.


Peter Denies Jesus – (John 18: 15-18)

Hymn 237 – O come and mourn with me awhile (v. 1-2)

The High Priest Questions Jesus – (John 18: 19-24)

Second reflection

Jesus has taught among the people, making no distinction between those with faith, and those with no faith.  He has comforted the afflicted, and challenged the comfortable.  He operated in the open, boldly, without fear.  And his opponents show their true colours by coming at night – by operating in secret.  Their fear betrays them – and that fear is contagious.  Those who were faithful will be consumed by fear.  The denials have already started for Peter – soon all but the women will be gone.  But Jesus, true to his own teaching, stands against the fear that surrounds him.  He will not be ruled by it – he will not offer the fearful response.  HE does not fight back – he appeals to the facts of his case; and his determined course of action only increases the desperation of his opponents.  This should not happen – reason and good judgement should prevail, but it will not; in cannot.  Fear has claimed the stage, and it will not be denied.


Peter Denies Jesus Again – (John 18: 25-27)

Hymn  – 237 – O come and mourn with me awhile (v. 3-4)

Jesus before Pilate – (John 18: 28-38)

Third reflection

Pilate comes close to being the hero of this story;  a man of power, wealth and influence; a man in control of his situation and his emotions.  Finally, someone to whom Jesus can appeal – a man of reason and education.  But even Pilate is ruled by fear.  His position depends on fear in others – his power springs from fear, and he discovers fear himself when confronted by this fearless rabbi.  When the people you oppress show no fear, the oppressor loses power over them, and Pilate knows in an instant that he has no power over Jesus.  That is why Jesus must be stopped, because a people who fear only God, while they can still be beaten, imprisoned, tortured and harassed, can no longer be controlled by fear of Roman authority.  Pilate understands this – but he cannot accept it.  His fears are in control, and he will act, reluctantly, according to those fears.

Jesus Sentenced to Death – (John 18: 38- 19: 16)

Anthem – They Crucified my Lord –

Prayer –

Giver of life, we wait with you to offer the hope that comes from the cross to earth’s darkest places.

Where pain is deep and affection is denied:

let love break through.

Where justice is destroyed,

let sensitivity to right spring up.

Where hope is crucified,

let faith persist.

Where peace has no chance,

let passion live on.

Where truth is trampled underfoot,

let the struggle continue.

Where fear paralyzes,

let forgiveness break through.

Eternal God, reach into the silent darkness of our souls

with the radiance of the cross.  O you who are the bearer of all pain,

have mercy on us.

Giver of life,

have mercy on us.

Merciful God,

have mercy on us. Amen.                    

(prayer taken from “The Worship Sourcebook” copublished by: The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (Grand Rapids, MI); Faith Alive Christian Resources & Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI.  2004)       

The Crucifixion of Jesus – (John 19: 17 – 30)

(candle extinguished)                        silence

Jesus’ Side Is Pierced – (John 19: 31-37)

Final reflection

It is a hideous death.  A shameful example of human behaviour is here preserved in Holy Scripture.  It is more than just a terrifying story – the gospel accounts of Jesus arrest and crucifixion tell us things about ourselves that we would rather not know.  We will follow the crowd.  We do give in to our fear.  We are ruled by a sense of our own safety even when it means turning a blind eye to the truth.  But there is hope for us even as this story reaches the depths of human darkness, even as the light of Jesus life is extinguished.  For Jesus meets his opponents with dignity, answers brutality with honest indignation, and until he takes his final breath, acts out of a sense of love and commitment and purpose that comes from a deep faith in the goodness of God.  Today is the day that we must struggle with the way that hope is revealed to us as followers of Jesus.  Today is the day we try to understand the violent nature of those made in the image of a compassionate God.  Today, we are faced with our deepest fears.  Jesus death seems to justify those fears.  Will you continue to be afraid?

We have told the story often enough – you know it doesn’t end here – but do not dismiss the lessons that may be learned on this horrible day.


The Burial of Jesus – (John 19: 38-42)

Depart in silence


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