LOVE LEADS THE WAY WORSHIP SERIES
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
No color. No banners. No candles.
We face together the horror of the execution of Jesus, and enter the silence of his tomb.
For Your Planning Team — Holy Friday / Good Friday
In This Series
This is the third major service in Holy Week.
This is the most intense week in the Christian year. It confronts us with the violence we inflict upon each other and our faithlessness toward God, juxtaposed dramatically against the love of God and the hope God’s kingdom offers our world.
The service we have designed begins with the opening of a reading from the Easter Vigil (Ezekiel 37), ending with the image of a valley of dry bones (verse 2). It is a stark, physical, visceral image of the power of death. As such it sets the tone for what follows.
The Reproaches (found in the Book of Worship, 363-365, or as adapted here) are intended to be hard to hear. They reflect the real violence we do are are complicit in, against Jesus, and against one another. Do not avert your congregation from them. Everything until now has prepared you for this stark encounter, this mirror that unmasks the worst of who we are. And this, in turn, prepares us for the starkest encounter of all, with the execution of Jesus. We do not commend sung responses for the Reproaches in this service. Read them. Give silence after each for people feel their penetrating sting. From these stripes we are invited to receive God’s healing.
The greater amount of time in this service is spent listening and responding in silence or occasionally in song to the story of the arrest, trial, execution, and burial of Jesus from John’s gospel. John’s gospel has been associated with the Good Friday liturgy in the West since at least the fourth century. The version we commend is that in the Book of Worship’s Tenebrae service, a translation made especially for our Book of Worship by J. H. Charlesworth. His translation, while staying within the classic linguistic tradition of the Revised Standard Version, carefully and appropriately avoids the anti-Jewish readings of the Gospel of John present in the RSV and perpetuated in the NRSV. We strongly encourage you to use this version.
Because there is so much reading in this service, it is essential you have skilled readers. Take whatever time you need to train and rehearse the readers in their readings. Poor reading takes focus away from what is being read to the inadequacies of the reader. Strong reading enables the reader to vanish and the Word to shine through the words read.
Holy Communion is not observed on Good Friday. Holy Communion is celebrated in light of the resurrection of the Crucified One. On this day, and on Holy Saturday, we place ourselves before Christ crucified, dead, and buried. That is why Christian liturgies, East and West, including our own Book of Worship, have provided no Great Thanksgiving for Good Friday.
If you choose to include a sermon in this service, we commend you place it after the act of healing and before the reading of the passion, as indicated. This is a day when the ritual and the passion narrative speak more than adequately without further interpretation.
Logistics: Reading and Leading
The structure of this service is primarily that of a vigil, a service of readings and silence or prayers/hymns. If your congregation, clergy, lay readers, or other worship leaders are unaccustomed such services as The Easter Vigil or the Advent or Christmas Service of Lessons and Carols, they may also be unaccustomed to the manner of reading that makes such services work well. If so, encourage them to watch a well-run service of lessons and carols, such as this one, from Myers Park UMC. Pay particular attention to the readings. Note the readings are offered at a deliberate pace, with careful articulation of syllables, and with an expressive but not “dramatic” voicing. Again, as noted above, the intention is not to draw attention to the reader, as inarticulate or overly dramatic reading will do, but to the readings themselves. Finally, arrange for all readers to practice their reading in the space and with the sound system as it will be in the service before the service takes place.
Leading a service such as this also takes careful attention. While Holy Friday/Good Friday includes substantial reading, the ground of this service is silence. One might call it a service of silence occasionally punctuated by scripture, prayer, and song. But the ground is silence, not speaking. That’s why it starts with a silent procession.
Do not avert your bodies from the silence. Enter it. Deeply.
Silence in an assembly begins not at the mouth, but in the body, in a stillness of body and breath. Many who attend these services in our churches may not have this as a discipline. But those who lead worship can embody and model it. Your grounded, non-anxious, and non-verbal leadership of stillness, deliberate (never-rushed) movement, and settled, slow breathing will catch on with those who observe your leadership without you needing to call attention to it or explain it. If such leadership is unfamiliar to you and other worship leaders, be sure to practice in the worship space beforehand, and to take time to still your body, your mind, and your breathing before you begin to lead.
Do take time to practice such presence before seeking to lead this service. There is a difference between solemnity and severity. Aim for solemnity, and practice being able to stay in this state. You may want to invite one or two observers to help coach you as you practice leading so you can get a better feel for when and how you embody solemnity well, as opposed to slipping into severity.