Good Friday Reflection and Digital Tenebrae Service, Year A
April 10, 2020 Hands That Grieve
Focus Lesson: John 18:1-19:42
Additional Daily Lessons: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25 (or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand the very real presence of grief both in this Good Friday and in life’s journey.
Context: On this day, Jesus of Nazareth was crowned not with gold but with thorns, carried not a scepter but a cross, ascended not to a throne but rather was lifted up in the shameful crucifixion of a political insurrectionist. Today we grieve what seems to be Empire’s triumph over the holy and the good. Today with the disciples we watch the death of hope and love. You might choose to fast today.
Key Scripture: So they took Jesus;and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. John 19:17-18
Gratitude Connection: It’s pretty tough to practice gratitude when grief washes over us in monstrous waves or tosses us to and fro on winds of unwelcome change. The best we may be able to do is ride out the emotional storm until it passes, and we can sit quietly in the brokenness. Remember from Jesus’ words in our Tuesday reflection “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Even in the midst of shadows it is the nature of creation to sprout forth, grow, and flourish. Look for the seed of hope in your grief. Pray with it. Meditate on it. Cultivate this precious hope, and watch your gratitude begin to grow anew.
Does this mean the suffering and grief magically disappear? Absolutely not! Grief is a process, and there is much that will never return to “normal” in our lives. If, however, we listen to and follow Jesus there will be a new dawn. Yes, weeping fills the shadows and consumes our joy and hope, but because of the Christ we can be sure that joy will come again and hope will blossom.
Reflection: “What’s good about Good Friday?” she asked. “I just don’t get it. It’s my least favorite service of the church year.” A newly minted pastor, I could conjure up precious little by way of response. Oh sure, I had all the liturgically proper answers at hand, but I could sense that they were not what this parishioner needed to hear. Over the years, Good Friday has become an important marker in the rhythms of the church year, one whose meaning has deepened and changed as I’ve grown spiritually and experienced my own share of grief and suffering.
Good Friday is one of the precious few times when the church truly laments. And, oh my friends, how we need to reclaim and relearn the practice of lament! The God of the cosmos is big enough to handle our lament; in fact, perhaps being able to lament and hurl our pain at our Abba/Amma draws us into a fuller, more “real” relationship with the Divine.
Grief and love are woven together into the same garment, and nowhere is that more fully realized than in the liturgy for Good Friday. Great love gives expression to great grief, and great love also helps us move through it. Take time today to sit with your grief, pain, suffering, fear, and anxiety. If you practice centering prayer or contemplation, you might wish to sit from the traditional hours of noon to three p.m. and keep vigil with Jesus. Perhaps you might also consider a prayer walk during those hours. Do not be afraid to enter deeply into the suffering of Jesus. It is the doorway to resurrection.
I leave you with words from Jack Bernard, a co-founder of The Church of the Sojourners, an intentional community in the San Francisco Bay area:
The key element in beginning to learn to embody the love of God is not heroic faith and determination. It has to do with whether or not we can take hold of the love of God as a power that includes us within it. The difference is between seeing life from the inside of God versus seeing it from within my own sensibilities and capacities. From inside the love of God, suffering becomes not only bearable, but a privilege of participating with Christ in his love for the world. This cannot be rationally explained or justified, but it is the fruit of a life trustingly lived in and for God who is all love.”
Digging Deeper: Don’t discount the grief that you and others are experiencing. It is real. It deserves to be recognized and given space for expression. Adults may benefit from reading these two articles about grief in a time of Pandemic and dealing with the emotional well being of children:
Consider writing a psalm of lament to give voice to your grief, fear, and/or anxiety. Here are two excellent articles to help you craft your lament:
Order for a Digital Tenabrae Worship
Setting up: You will need 14 candles in protective holders (tea lights, emergency candles, or votives work well), a lighter or matches, something to make a loud noise (could be a door slam), Bibles, an unadorned table for the candles, and access to the order of worship either printed or on screen. If you have a cross at home, place it where it can be seen and contemplated during the service. An additional pillar candle is helpful.
Note: This service can be posted to your website, blog, or Facebook group to be used at home by groups or individuals, or you might want to use a digital meeting platform and invite participants in advance to take a turn reading and extinguishing candles.
Context: Tenebrae (or “Shadows”) originated in the twelfth century as a late night/early morning Holy Week worship service. It is an extended meditation on the passion of Christ. Together we descend with our Lord into the valley of shadows, to the place where hope and love are crucified by the powers of Empire and human brokenness. In it we recognize our own complicity, brokenness, and need.
The power of liturgy is on full display during the services of Holy Week. Writing in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove remind us of the “magical” nature of liturgy and why that matters:
Although the liturgy is not magic or illusion or sorcery, it captures our imagination—this idea that God came to earth and died and now lives in us. It is a mystery. So while there is nothing of a magical formula in the liturgy, there is plenty that points us toward a world beyond this one. Perhaps one of the sure signs that we have worshiped God is that we walk away saying “I didn’t understand everything that happened there. It must be bigger than my comprehension.” Too much of our worship has boxed God in as if we were going to see a play on Broadway. But in worship we become part of the play. Though we can’t understand it all, we can come onstage and participate in the divine drama (p. 245-6).
One of the hidden blessings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we are all forced to see the world through a new lens. May the same be true of our digital worship and dispersed locations, and may this new reality draw us closer to the passion of the Christ.
(Light the 14 candles and the central candle you are using as the Christ Candle either now or during the first hymn. You will extinguish one candle after each reading. The readings in this service are taken from the Common English Bible.)
God is light, in whom there are no shadows at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world,
and we loved the deep shadows rather than light.
Hymn “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”
(Light the candles during the hymn, and reduce the lighting in your space.)
Prayer (use this prayer or the one appointed in your tradition for Good Friday)
God of love, forgive us when we make a mockery of love with our lips and actions. Fill us with your embodied love that we may walk with you in suffering and death as eagerly as we walk with you in joy and hope. May our grieving hands and heart give way to love made visible through action in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus is Arrested
Jesus went out with his disciples and crossed over to the other side of the Kidron Valley. He and his disciples entered a garden there. 2 Judas, his betrayer, also knew the place because Jesus often gathered there with his disciples. 3 Judas brought a company of soldiers and some guards from the chief priests and Pharisees. They came there carrying lanterns, torches, and weapons. 4 Jesus knew everything that was to happen to him, so he went out and asked, “Who are you looking for?”
5 They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them, “I Am.” (Judas, his betrayer, was standing with them.) 6 When he said, “I Am,” they shrank back and fell to the ground. 7 He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 Jesus answered, “I told you, ‘I Am.’ If you are looking for me, then let these people go.” 9 This was so that the word he had spoken might be fulfilled: “I didn’t lose anyone of those whom you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?” 12 Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the guards from the Jewish leaders took Jesus into custody. They bound him 13 and led him first to Annas. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. (14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was better for one person to die for the people.)
The reader extinguishes the first candle.
Jesus is taken to the religious leaders
12 Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the guards from the Jewish leaders took Jesus into custody. They bound him 13 and led him first to Annas. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. (14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was better for one person to die for the people.)
The reader extinguishes the second candle.
Peter denies Jesus
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Because this other disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16 However, Peter stood outside near the gate. Then the other disciple (the one known to the high priest) came out and spoke to the woman stationed at the gate, and she brought Peter in. 17 The servant woman stationed at the gate asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”
“I’m not,” he replied. 18 The servants and the guards had made a fire because it was cold. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter joined them there, standing by the fire and warming himself.
The reader extinguishes the third candle.
19 Meanwhile, the chief priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, “I’ve spoken openly to the world. I’ve always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews gather. I’ve said nothing in private. 21 Why ask me? Ask those who heard what I told them. They know what I said.”
22 After Jesus spoke, one of the guards standing there slapped Jesus in the face. “Is that how you would answer the high priest?” he asked.
23 Jesus replied, “If I speak wrongly, testify about what was wrong. But if I speak correctly, why do you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
The reader extinguishes the fourth candle.
Peter denies Jesus again
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing with the guards, warming himself. They asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not.”
26 A servant of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said to him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
The reader extinguishes the fifth candle.
Jesus is brought to Pilate
28 The Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Roman governor’s palace.[d] It was early in the morning. So that they could eat the Passover, the Jewish leaders wouldn’t enter the palace; entering the palace would have made them ritually impure.
29 So Pilate went out to them and asked, “What charge do you bring against this man?”
30 They answered, “If he had done nothing wrong, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your Law.”
The Jewish leaders replied, “The Law doesn’t allow us to kill anyone.” (32 This was so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled when he indicated how he was going to die.)
The reader extinguishes the sixth candle.
Pilate questions Jesus
33 Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
35 Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
37 “So you are a king?” Pilate said.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked.
The reader extinguishes the seventh candle.
Barabbas is released
After Pilate said this, he returned to the Jewish leaders and said, “I find no grounds for any charge against him. 39 You have a custom that I release one prisoner for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”
40 They shouted, “Not this man! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas was an outlaw.)
The reader extinguishes the eighth candle.
Jesus is whipped and mocked as king
Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. 3 Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look! I’m bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”
6 When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”
Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”
7 The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”
The reader extinguishes the ninth candle.
Pilate questions Jesus again
8 When Pilate heard this word, he was even more afraid. 9 He went back into the residence and spoke to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus didn’t answer. 10 So Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and also to crucify you?”
11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From that moment on, Pilate wanted to release Jesus.
However, the Jewish leaders cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!”
13 When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement (in Aramaic, Gabbatha). 14 It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Here’s your king.”
15 The Jewish leaders cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate responded, “What? Do you want me to crucify your king?”
“We have no king except the emperor,” the chief priests answered. 16 Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
The reader extinguishes the tenth candle.
Jesus is crucified
The soldiers took Jesus prisoner. 17 Carrying his cross by himself, he went out to a place called Skull Place (in Aramaic, Golgotha). 18 That’s where they crucified him—and two others with him, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a public notice written and posted on the cross. It read “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21 Therefore, the Jewish chief priests complained to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The king of the Jews’ but ‘This man said, “I am the king of the Jews.”’”
22 Pilate answered, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.”
The reader extinguishes the eleventh candle.
The soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and his sandals, and divided them into four shares, one for each soldier. His shirt was seamless, woven as one piece from the top to the bottom. 24 They said to each other, “Let’s not tear it. Let’s cast lots to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill the scripture,
divided my clothes among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.
That’s what the soldiers did.
The reader extinguishes the twelfth candle.
Jesus commends his mother to the care of the disciple who loved him
25 Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
The reader extinguishes the thirteenth candle.
Jesus gives up his life
28 After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.
The reader extinguishes the fourteenth candle.
Witness at the cross
31 It was the Preparation Day and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath, especially since that Sabbath was an important day. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of those crucified broken and the bodies taken down. 32 Therefore, the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who were crucified with Jesus. 33 When they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead so they didn’t break his legs. 34 However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 The one who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows that he speaks the truth, and he has testified so that you also can believe. 36 These things happened to fulfill the scripture, They won’t break any of his bones. 37 And another scripture says, They will look at him whom they have pierced.
The reader extinguishes the Christ candle. The final reading should be read by a reading light.
Jesus’ body is buried
38 After this Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate if he could take away the body of Jesus. Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one because he feared the Jewish authorities. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took the body away. 39 Nicodemus, the one who at first had come to Jesus at night, was there too. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, nearly seventy-five pounds in all. 40 Following Jewish burial customs, they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the spices, in linen cloths. 41 There was a garden in the place where Jesus was crucified, and in the garden was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.
The reader or another person should make a loud noise to signal the closing of the tomb.
There is no closing hymn or prayer. We keep vigil with Jesus’ disciples allowing the full expression of grief, fear, and sorrow to unfold.
Worship continues with the Easter Vigil. The Christ candle may be removed from the room and hidden until Easter morning.
JOHN 18:1–19:42 Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible
Photos: © rolffimages – Fotolia.com and hobvious sudoneighm, Creative Commons