God of life, today we pause to remember the power of death. Today we tell the story of what happens when someone angers those in power. Today we tell a story of betrayal by a friend, trial by empire, execution as a way of silencing the one who names injustice. Today we tell a story that happened long ago in a land far away. Today we tell a story that continues to happen today in places close at hand.
As we remember the story today help us to see its truth. As we tell of Jesus’ trial and execution remind us of those who are found legally guilty for doing and saying the right things. As we tell of the friends who are conspicuously absent from the cross remind us how easily we slip away when the struggle for justice becomes dangerous or challenging. As we look at the cross remind us of the power of empire in any age, and remind us of our duty as people of faith to proclaim a different empire, a different kingdom, a new way of living together.
God of life, today we pause to remember the power of those in charge to run the world. Today we remember the many people near and far who are broken by that power: those who live in places where peace is just a word, not a reality, not even a dream those who are pushed to the margins because of their race, their gender, their bank balance, their marital status, their orientation, or any of the countless other ways we find to set people apart those who live with nothing so that others may live with abundance those who choose to challenge the injustices in their world and are crushed beneath the feet of those in charge:
…time of silent prayer…
But even as we remember that power we remember that day follows night, hope replaces despair, and life will conquer death. And now, as we prepare to leave this gathering, may we do so ready to challenge the empires of our world, even if such a challenge leads us to a cross outside the city gates. We pray in the name of the one who showed us the depth of his passion for Your Kingdom, who taught us to live in love and justice, in whose life, death and resurrection we can find the path to Kingdom living, and who taught his friends to pray by saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Holy God, our hope and strength, we give thanks for your Word made flesh— for the life that death cannot destroy, and for the light that darkness cannot overcome. Enlighten our minds and enliven our hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that we may testify to your light share the life of Christ with a hurting world; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
GOSPEL READING John 19:1-11
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters[a] again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
I want you to imagine for a few moments that you were there at the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s not hard for us to remember vividly the crucifixion, whether we want to or not: Jesus being nailed to the cross, hanging in agony. Yet, sometimes we forget the abuse he experiences before and after that horrific event. Jesus is brought before the high council in the sham of a trial, the religious leaders looking for any excuse to get rid of him. Jesus gives them one, stating simply that he indeed is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. The religious leaders tear their cloaks, hearing what sounds like blasphemy, and deciding that Jesus needs to die. But before they ship him off, Jesus absorbs the first of several physical assaults as they spit on him, blindfold him, and hit him.
Yet, in an attempt to keep their hands clean, they send him to the governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate conducts his own interrogation, asking a different question than the religious leaders: “Are you the King of the Jews?” It will be the first of five times Jesus will be named as King of the Jews in just a very few verses. Even so, Pilate, to his credit, looks for an opportunity to release Jesus, knowing he is being played and that Jesus doesn’t deserve to die. But the crowds, stirred up by the religious leaders, shout over and over again, “Crucify him!” prevent him from doing so. Then Jesus receives his second beating as Pilate has him flogged before handing him over to be crucified.
The soldiers, sensing an opportunity for unbridled “fun,” wrap him in a purple cloak, twist some thorns into a crown and for a third time label Jesus as King of the Jews, while spitting and hitting him. Even as they crucify him they are not done mocking and abusing him. They place a placard around his neck identifying the charges against him: King of the Jews. Even then the mocking doesn’t end. The religious leaders just can’t resist one final mocking: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” If that wasn’t bad enough, those crucified alongside him taunted Jesus as well.
There is more to the story, but I want to pause and reflect on something. In the midst of this undeserved brutality sits the crown of thorns, not placed gently on him. As we listen to the story, not wanting to hear and turning our mind’s eyes away from the patent cruelty that is almost incomprehensible, we might wonder: what were they so afraid of that they did this horrific thing? Were they more afraid that Jesus was the promised King or that he wasn’t? We know that Jesus threatened the standing of the religious leaders, and that Pilate feared the unrest of the crowds. But what about the soldiers and the two criminals, what could they possibly have to fear?
I’ll leave that sit here because there’s a set of characters in the story, present throughout the abuse not yet named: you and me. In answer to the hymn, “Were you there?,” we acknowledge that yes indeed, “We were there,” and frankly we don’t do much better than those others. For the real human condition is that we, too, are afraid of Jesus and mock him, even if doing so unknowingly. The brutal facts of Good Friday are that we mock Jesus in what we do and don’t do. We mock him in what we say and don’t say. And we even mock him in what we continue to think. We mock Jesus whenever acts of injustice are perpetrated and we keep quiet or rationalize them away. Just the other day yet an Asian woman was attacked and beaten while two men did nothing, not even calling 911 from the safety of the building.
I think it’s a good thing that there is a day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, a time of reflection about this Friday we call Good. It is easy to move too quickly to the assurance of, “It’s okay, Jesus forgives” without considering the magnitude of what that forgiveness and reconciliation costs. We must sit in the stillness of Good Friday, waiting, hoping, wondering how God is doing God’s crucifying work within us. You were there at the cross, and you are here now, and that will become Good News, just not yet. Peace.
THE ANCIENT OFFICE OF TENEBRAE
THE LONELINESS Luke 22:40-42
40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”[a] 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
Hymn No. 216 “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” vs. 1&2
1 Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
the shadow of a mighty rock
within a weary land;
a home within the wilderness,
a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat,
and the burden of the day.
2 Upon the cross of Jesus
mine eye at times can see
the very dying form of One
who suffered there for me;
and from my stricken heart with tears
two wonders I confess:
the wonders of redeeming love
and my unworthiness.
THE BETRAYAL Matthew 26:48-50
48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
Hymn No. 212 “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed vs. 1&4
1 Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I!
4 But drops of grief can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe;
here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.
THE DENIAL Mark 14:66-72
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt.[a] Then the cock crowed.[b] 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
Hymn No. 223 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross 1,2&3
1 When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
2 Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
3 See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
THE TRIAL Luke 23:13-19, 24-25
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[a]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.)
24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Hymn No. 209 “My Song Is Love Unknown vs.1 &2
1 My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?
2 He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
the world that was his own
would not its Savior know.
But O my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend!
THE CRUCIFIXION Mark 15:22-26
22 Then they brought Jesus[a] to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
Hymn No. 221 “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” vs. 1&2
1 O sacred head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down;
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown;
O sacred head, what glory,
what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call thee mine.
2 What thou, my Lord, hast suffered
was all for sinners’ gain:
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
and grant to me thy grace.
THE MOCKING Matthew 27:39-44
39 Those who passed by derided[a] him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself.[b] He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
Hymn No. 218 “Ah, Holy Jesus” all verses
1 Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
2 Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
3 Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
for our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
4 For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation,
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation.
5 Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
THE DEATH Mark 15:33-39
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[b] 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he[c] breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[d]
Hymn No. 228 “Were You There 1,2& 5
1 Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?)
2 Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? (Were you there?)
5 Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? (Were you there?)
The congregation will remain seated during the Service of Tenebrae.
Following the extinguishing of the seventh candle,
the congregation is asked to leave in silence.
The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship of the medieval common folk during Holy Week. Today we join Christians of many generations throughout the world in using the liturgy of Tenebrae.
Tenebrae is a prolonged meditation on Christ’s suffering. Readings trace the story of Christ’s passion, music portrays his pathos, and the power of silence and darkness suggests the drama of this momentous day. We ponder the depth of Christ’s suffering through mounting darkness; through the return of the small but persistent flame of the Christ candle at the conclusion of the service, we anticipate the joy of ultimate victory.
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