What is the mood of the Good Friday experience? Many churches prefer the quiet somber reflection on the depth of suffering that our Lord endured on that day. The service is woven through with silence; the words impress upon the hearer the weight of pain and the injustice of the leaders who demanded his death. The music is both a reminder of his decision to suffer and die and our culpability in bringing this sentence upon him. There is darkness, perhaps even a growing darkness of the Tenebrae service where one by one the candles are extinguished along with his life as the story is recounted. Other congregations find ways to depict the story with live actors or through visual art. Maybe we borrow from our Roman Catholic siblings and do a modified Stations of the Cross as a way of walking through the story.
For some, this is a corporate event, and together we relive those painful, precious moments of awesome grace. For others, it is an individual exercise that we might do at the same time, but we leave individuals to their own inner thoughts and feelings. We provide the space and the support but allow people to walk that journey with Christ in their own minds and bodies and souls.
Sometimes we end the service in silence, or we strip the chancel of all the color and texture if that wasn’t done the night before. Maybe we send the worshipers out into the night with a plaintive organ postlude or somber piano piece, or even singing a spiritual or hymn that speaks of the depth of this moment: “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done” (United Methodist Hymnal, 287) or “Were You There” (United Methodist Hymnal, 288), something that will echo in the hearts and minds of the congregation through the long night ahead.
All of these are appropriate ways of designing worship on this day, and there are other rituals and traditions in your local context that are meaningful to you and to those who worship with you. However, this year, we humbly ask a simple question: “Is there room for joy on Good Friday? And if so, what would that joy look like?” Another way to respond to this question would be to explore the nature of “good news” even in this context. How do we proclaim the good of Good Friday in a way that makes sense to those who come to hear and experience this day? Can we hold on to hope? Can we look forward to Resurrection or does that miss something vital about this day?
As you plan for the Good Friday observance, you might consider the person who comes to this service only – the person who isn’t there for Palm/Passion Sunday or Maundy Thursday and won’t be back for Easter. What do you want this unnamed person to walk away with on this day? What gift do you give from this moment of awesome grace?
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.