Good Friday

March 29, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 52.13-53.12. “He was despised…he has borne our infirmities…he poured himself out to death.”

Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Hebrews 10.16-25. “I will put my: law in their hearts and remember their sins no more” Enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus… Provoke one another to love.

John 18.1-19.42. The Passion story

Preaching Thoughts

        The prophet speaks from the perspective of a belief that God is a character who punishes us, uses us, and in general intervenes in our lives more intrusively than I think is true. God is love, and love doesn’t “strike down” anybody. I see it that “we accounted him stricken, struck down by God.” He wasn’t—but we blame it on God. It was us, all right, not God, who treated him badly. This description is not just of Jesus—in fact it’s not about him at all, since it was written 500 years before Jesus came along. It’s about the sorrows of anyone who enters into the suffering of the world, because that’s what God does. Love bears the wounds of others, enters into their suffering, and accepts the lowest place— often despised, abused, blamed and condemned. This description might fit anyone in our society who is oppressed, but the servant of God, by being in solidarity with the oppressed, enters into this suffering willingly. And, significantly, the servant of God accepts suffering not just for piety’s sake, but to bring about justice, and does it nonviolently.

        I’ve heard way to many preachers say when Jesus was crucified God looked away because God just couldn’t bear it. Baloney. God is not that fragile. Plenty of people suffer more deeply, for longer, than Jesus did, and God never looks away from us when we suffer. When Jesus cries out “Why have you forsaken me?” he’s not complaining that he’s been abandoned. He (or more likely the gospel writer) is quoting Palm 22, which identifies that awful feeling of absolute aloneness in the depths of our sufferings, but goes on to proclaim God’s loving, faithful presence even there: “God, you did not hide your face from me, but heard when I cried to you.” Jesus’ cry from the cross was not despair, but hope. And when we hear him cry out in this anguish, it tells us even God knows what it feels like to be abandoned by God. And God is with us even in our deepest aloneness.

        I don’t preach on Good Friday. I let the story tell itself. Especially if the story is not set up as God’s weird little scheme to get Jesus killed so God would have the magic key to save us (from God’s own punishment). What we see is the plight of someone caught up in a power system that’s threatened. Jesus is no different from every unjustly accused and imprisoned person, every victim of violence, abuse, discrimination, racism, sexism, heterosexism, or condemnation or exclusion of any kind. The victim is blamed. The system goes on. Power is maintained. When we see Jesus as the victim of human injustice, not just a pawn in God’s game, we see the enormity of both our sin and God’s forgiveness. The saving grace—what makes “Good Friday” so good—is not how much Jesus suffers (many people suffer more than that) but how deeply Jesus forgives. He forgives the very people who are torturing him to death! “By a perversion of justice he is taken away”—yet he endures it nonviolently, with love and mercy. We are saved from our fear of death, our fear of The Powers, even our fear of both God and our separation from God—for God will indeed be with us and for us even in the worst of our behavior. The key to a good Good Friday service is to embed this vision of nonviolent mercy in the early part of the service (if you’re going to preach, do it early)—and then let the story tell itself.

Call to Worship

Loving One, we who cried “Hosanna”
are now shouting “Crucify!”
God, have mercy.
Christ in love bears the pain of our sin,
and yet forgives us.
Christ, have mercy.
Holy Spirit, be with us
as we behold the mystery of the cross.
God, have mercy.

Gracious God, held in your love,
we come to witness the depth of the human struggle,
the great wound of being human,
the suffering of the world.
Held in your love, we come to the cross.
We come to touch our sorrow,
and that of all who mourn,
the broken heart of humanity.
Held in your love, we come to the cross.
We come to face the depth of our sin,
the reach of our violence,
the terror of our injustice.
Held in your love, we come to the cross.
And we come to behold your infinite love:
for in our evil you forgive;
in our loneliness you embrace us;
in our death you accompany us.
Held in your love, we come to the cross.
God have mercy, as we behold the mystery of your grace.

Christ, our Savior, we come to witness.
Christ, our friend, we come to mourn
Christ, our victim, we come to repent.
Christ, our Savior, we come to worship.
Christ have mercy. God have mercy. Amen.

Opening Prayer

God of love, look with mercy upon your beloved people, for whom Christ was willing to suffer. Delivered into our hands, he bore our sin in his body and our anguish in his soul. In him we behold the fullness of our human weakness and your divine grace, your vulnerability for us, your forgiveness, and your life-giving love. By your grace may we find healing, liberation from our sin, and new life in you, that we may walk in your ways, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to your eternal glory. Amen.

God of grace, hold us in your love as we behold the mystery of the cross. Here in grace you touch our sorrows; you bear our wounds. Here in grace you accept our sin; you suffer our evil. Here in grace you accompany us in our loneliness; you share our death. And here in grace you meet injustice with mercy; you meet evil with healing; you meet fear with love; you meet death with life. God of grace, hold us in your love as we behold the mystery of the cross.

Other Prayers

God of Truth, keep always in our minds your love for us, and our love for you. Deliver us from our fear of speaking out for justice and standing with those who are oppressed. Forgive us for tolerating injustice and wrong. Give us the strength to confront evil and to proclaim your grace, in the spirit of Christ. Amen.

God of mercy, deliver us from our fear in which we judge others. We pray for all who are oppressed, imprisoned, persecuted or rejected. To you who have delivered us from slavery we pray for the faith and courage to work for justice and the freedom of your children, and to proclaim the good news of your grace. Amen.

Jesus, Healer of so many hearts and spirits and bodies, on this day you do not claim your equality with God, but rather you choose to become vulnerable for us, vulnerable even to death, death on a cross. Even in our deepest shame and hurt you are present with us. Even in our death you offer us life. By this mystery set us free from fear and shame; set us free from sin and sorrow; set us free from the powers of evil. We pray for the sake of new life, in the name and the spieit of the crucified Christ. Amen.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.
O Christ, in your humility, your struggle and your suffering,
give us courage, Beloved, and redeem the suffering of the poor.
In your weakness, rejection and humiliation, your crown of
thorns, your bitter death and your resting in the grave,
you accompany those who suffer, who are in sorrow or who are alone,
who face death or who know injustice.
In your steadfast love and forgiveness,
receive our sins, God, set us free, and grant us peace.
In your kindness in the face of evil,
give us trust in the power of love.
By the mystery of your grace in the face of violence,
show us your way, O Loving One.
Put to death all that is evil in us,
that we may never judge, blame or harm your children;
that we may resist evil, injustice and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves;
that we may bear your love to the world.
Grant that we may die with Christ; and raise us to new life.
Into your hands we commit our spirit.
We pray for your holy Church, the Body of Christ.
Impart to us the Spirit of gentleness and peace,
the Spirit of compassion and forgiveness,
the Spirit of justice and freedom for all.
By the grace of the crucified Christ, may we learn your way of love.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

O Christ, give us faith to trust your presence in our struggles.
Give us grace to face our trials with love and courage.
O Christ, in your humility, your struggle and your suffering,
give comfort and healing to all who suffer.
We pray for all who are afflicted in body, mind or spirit.
For the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the poor.
For the sick, and those who struggle with addiction.

For those in loneliness, fear and anguish.
For those who face temptation, doubt or despair.
For relationships that are strained and spirits that are broken.
For the sorrowful and bereaved, and all who experience loss.

For all who are oppressed, abused, or exploited.
For prisoners, and those who face cruelty, torture or execution.
For refugees, immigrants and all victims of war.
We pray for all who exercise power in the world.
We pray that your Empire of Grace may prevail
over the empires of privilege, exclusion and violence.
In your mercy, God, comfort and heal your Beloved children.
In Christ on the cross you are present with them.

Grant all your beloved people trust in your love,
and stir up in us the grace to minister to their needs.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

nailed to the cross of my heart,
I behold your love.


1. Dramatization of John 18.38 – 19.16

Pilate went out to the people again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
People: Not this man, but Barabbas!
Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 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.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
Crucify him! Crucify him!
Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 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?” 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.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the people cried out.
If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.
Pilate brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the people, “Here is your King!”
Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!
Shall I crucify your King?
We have no king but the emperor.
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

2. Adapted from Psalm 31
In you, O God I seek refuge
Into your hands I commend my spirit, O God.
Into your hands I commit my life.
You are my safety, my freedom. Save me from the traps that ensnare me.
In your mercy rescue me,
for you are my strength and have the power to raise me up!
For all my enemies I am an object of reproach,
a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends.
I have become like a broken vessel.
Into your hands I commend my spirit, O God.
Into your hands I commit my life.

I hear the voices around me whispering of my plight –
fears rise up on every side!
Loneliness surrounds me; I fear it will overwhelm me.
Still I trust in You, O Loving God. I repeat, “You are my Life.”
My life is in your hands; deliver me from the clutches of my enemies.
Let your face shine on me, your servant; deliver me in your kindness.
People, be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in God.
Into your hands I commend my spirit, O God.
Into your hands I commit my life.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Kyrie – Six Versions (The traditional words set to six original tunes.)

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
(“Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord haver mercy.”)

Behold the Lamb of God
(Original song)

Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Come, let us follow, come let us follow
the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

O Jesus, Wounded Sovereign (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

Dear Jesus, you who suffer and walk among the poor
whose hearts and lives are broken, whose faith is still unsure:
despised, accused and battered, you do not say a word.
So powerless, yet loving!— you are my Sovereign Lord.

You bear no arms but loving, no threats nor flags unfurled.
You wear no kingly robes, but the sorrows of the world.
Yet your forgiveness conquers each worldly rule and reign,
and rises, whole, undaunted, from evil, death and pain.

While emperors abuse you, and people shrug or stare,
and dark injustice troubles the ones for whom you care,
your mighty grace arises, and hidden from our sight,
enfolds all living beings in your triumphant light.

O Jesus, wounded Sovereign, I pray, give me the nerve
without this world’s armor to love and bless and serve.
My master and companion, rule all eternity
with grace and deep compassion, and, Love, begin with me.

Oh, Jesus (Original song— an acapella solo)

Oh, Jesus, what have you done?
Carried my burdens, every one,
All of my sorrow, all of my sin,
Like a mother gathering her children in.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your tender, tender love.

Oh, Jesus, what have I done?
Crucified my precious one.
I didn’t want to bear the pain or loss,
So I left you alone to carry the cross.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your sufferin’, sufferin’, love.

Oh, Jesus, what will you do?
Forgive me like you always do.
With not a word of wrath or blame,
You died with love gently sayin’ my name.
Now I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your precious, precious love.

Oh, Jesus, what will I do?
Give me the courage to follow you,
To give my love if I live or die,
And never again to crucify.
For I’m left with nothin’ at all but love,
Nothin’ but your dyin’, dyin’ love

Woeful Cross (Original song)

Woeful cross, saddest wood, death in me of all that’s good,
I confess. Mother/Father, bless. Mercy.

Holy cross, mystery, love from fear of death set free.
Sin’s dark lie. Here I die. Mercy.

Gentle Christ on the cross, for our life your own life’s loss.
You forgive, and we live. Mercy.

Our own cross calling us to your love and gentleness:
may we live, as you give, mercy.

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