The first question the worship team needs to ask for this service is what is the mood? Is it quiet and somber? Is it dramatic and heavy? Is the hope to send folks out into the night like the first disciples, despairing and feeling as though all is lost? Or is there a clear pointer toward the glories of Easter to come?
Mood or tone for worship is set by a number of things. The environment is one of those things. How should the lighting be set? What furniture or adornment should be visible? There are some who think the bare chancel is the best way to present the Good Friday message. Stark and colorless, a bleak presentation of the world sorely in need of a savior. Others prefer a hint of dawn, a light on the horizon so that hope is indicated, even in the gloom of this day.
What songs will you sing? Will there be congregational singing, or only choir or soloists? “Were You There?” speaks of the sacrifice and the pain, but the last verse sings of Easter. Do you include that verse? Conversation about the mood is vital for an effective Good Friday service.
Many communities of worship use the Tenebrae format for Good Friday worship. The scripture, interwoven with music or projected images can provide a powerful reminder of the sacrifice of our Lord. Will there be different readers or the same well-rehearsed voice walking with the congregation through this journey? Are there candles to be put out after each reading? If so, does the reader put them out, or do acolytes perform this task? Do the lights in the worship space also dim with each candle, so that by the end there is near total darkness? Or does one light, one sign of hope, still flicker in the darkness?
Mood is always important in worship, but perhaps doubly so during Holy Week. It is also important to consider all the elements of the worshipers’ experience from the moment they arrive until they are heading home. If the service is online, then what greets those who log in a little early? While you can’t control the worship environment when people are worshiping at a distance, you can certainly suggest and then give time for them to set a worship space in their own place. Have a clear outline for that space with options, since not every home is equipped in the same way. No candles? Turn on a lamp. No colorful cloth? Use a napkin or construction paper. Find ways to help your online congregation feel connected to the event.
In a way, Good Friday is not so much about understanding, but experiencing. That’s why mood is so important. What do you want to have happen in the core of those who participate in worship in this service? We can’t always give a meaning that will satisfy the mind. Who can explain this sacrifice of blood on a cross from one we have come to call Lord or Savior? Much ink has been used to attempt to explain this event over the centuries. But the argument continues. Some might come to ask, “What does this mean?” It is much more likely, however, that the question is, “What does this have to do with me?” Or more specifically, “How am I supposed to feel about this?” We are longing for something to connect with us. We are looking for a heart experience, a breathtaking moment of wonder and awe, of humility and grace. What will you do to help those who worship with you this day find their way to the heart of this moment?
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.