What darkness brings to light

A service for Good Friday

Opening notes

On Easter Sunday we focus on coming to life, in and through the power of the risen Christ. But in order for us to come to life, we must first sit with the darkness of death. This service is a solemn space in which people can grieve the suffering of Jesus for the sake of our sin and remember their own losses. It has many elements that would be found in a funeral/memorial service.

Despite having a number of children in my children in the congregation for whom I have written this service, I decided not to have our usual time of conversation. I want them to experience the silence and the ritual of this moment. At their table in the front of the sanctuary, however, I have prepared a space for them in which they can discover the theme of the service in their own way: black cardboard, metallic sharpies (markers), a box of different crosses from a Godly Play lesson, and my own messy example in which I have drawn freehand nine different imitations of those crosses that spoke to me – some overlapping. After the service, these will be put in the sanctuary windows. The gold and silvers literally shine on the black background! (I’ll try to take a decent image tomorrow when the light is better).

I have also incorporated a silent “pilgrimage” to the large metal cross on the church grounds. I have pre-cut lengths of red ribbon which congregants will be able to tie to it as a symbol of their confession. It will also be visible to members of the community from the shopping centre across the road.

The lament

This is the night
where violence is the victor
as ambitious men measure a man’s worth in silver
and fearful men turn their backs on a friend,
and powerful men trade what is right for whatever keeps them popular.

This is the day
when the sun refuses to shine 
on the tear-stained cheeks of those who bear witness to such cruelty
or the bewildered faces of those who can’t take back their wrongs
or the hardened hearts already moving on to their next bit of entertainment.

This is the time
in which God goes ahead
into the nightmare landscape of pain and suffering,
into the breach between divine love and human sinfulness,
into the dark,
into the deep,
into death.

Out of the depths we cry to you:
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

TiS 350 There is a green hill far away (verses 1-4)

Old Testament reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NIV)

As it was prophesied in the book of Isaiah, so has it come to pass:

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.

For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

TiS 356 Here hangs a man discarded

(sung to the tune of O sacred head most wounded – 339 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oza5iOPtQkA)

Pilgrimage of confession/pain

The prayers of confession are done as part of a silent pilgrimage to the cross (located in my instance on the outside of the building). Everyone is given a red ribbon as they walk out of the sanctuary to tie to the cross as a symbol of laying their sins on the Intercessor. 

After some silence, a prayer in the face of tragic death is offered (based on some of the language and imagery of Psalm 22). This will connect with people on two levels: the first, as a lament of the injustice of the cross and expression of the questions may have about whether it was really necessary; the second – of which we need to be aware – is at the more personal level of recent or unresolved grief for those whose loved ones have died.

Sovereign Lord,
our great God of compassion,
as we gather around the cross of Christ
we can hardly believe what happened.
Our hearts are shaken with sorrow,
our certainty with disbelief,
for a life so full of promise has been taken
and we do not understand.

Cradle us in our confusion,
meet us in our anger,
contain our shock and sadness,
bear the questions that have no answers,
ease our regret and shame.

We must believe that you do not despise our cries of deep despair –
that You do not look the other way when we are in pain.
You are the first responder to our sufferings:
let us remember that “it is finished”
that we might overflow with life again.
In Jesus’ name.

Chorus: Amazing love (what love is this)  

Gospel reading: John 19:38-42

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 

Prayer of invocation

O God for whom the darkness is as dazzling as light,
You are our very present help in times of trouble.
With You we have nothing to fear
and in Your hope we place our trust.
In the mystery of life and death before us,
speak to us now Your eternal words of life.
Amen.

Guided meditation:
what darkness brings to light  

I am amazed how in the worst of times, we sometimes get a glimpse of the best in people. My meditation will focus on how Jospeh and Nicodemus, secret disciples who were afraid to be seen of him in the light of day for what it might cost them, in this moment step up, out of the shadows, and claim his body. While it is true that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, sometimes the darkness is necessary for us to work out what we really believe and where we’re headed and to see sources of light that escaped our attention before. 

This is a wonderful place to lead people in an imaginative prayer exercise beginning with our common experience of having our eyes adjust in a dark room when something unsettles us in the middle of the night and finding all sorts of unexpected light sources that orient us, and leading to a prayerful consideration of what our current worries, struggles, or pain might be revealing to us.  

Prayer of petition

Untiring God,
Your love pursues us:
there is no place in heaven or earth or under the earth
where we can hide from You.

Gather us up in Your arms 
– gently, for some of us are bruised, and broken, and bleeding.
Dispel the shadow of death,
the despair that engulfs us, 
with the bright dawn of Your life.

Look upon us with unconditional grace and mercy;
lead us, slowly, in our yearning
for redemption and a brand new day.

Give us patient faith in times of confusion,
strength to meet hard times to come,
and courage to place our hearts, our lives, our spirits,
into Your hands,
confident in the day
when every word will be spoken in kindness,
every tear shed for joy,
and every ending just another beginning
as the first-light comes
with the blessing of Your own face shining upon us.

TiS 349 In the cross of Christ I glory 

Benediction (and moment of remembering)

This is a memorial prayer (available in Tess Ward’s “Alternative Pastoral Prayers” which sends people away to experience the wait for a new day. Afterwards, opportunity is given to those who would like to light a candle in memory of a loved one for whom the words are equally true.

Long the journey we must now make
for one of our kind has left us and we cannot be the same.
Slow the feet tread moment by moment,
a wonder that morning and evening keep coming round.
But weaving the old story into the new cannot be hurried 
for there are no landmarks and no maps.
We must weep over their bones until we carry them within us.
And when the winter of our grief is past
and the rains are over and gone
we will arise and come away,
put our hand in the hand of life,
see the world afresh with newborn eyes
as the flowers appear on the earth again
and the time of singing is come.

Go gently with God.

Come to life

An “all-in” service for Easter Sunday

So often we want to rush to the end of the story – to banish the darkness and celebrate the light and life of Christ shining radiantly beyond the confines of the empty tomb. This service is intended to make room for the sorrow of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body to give way to the wonderful news that he is risen.

Lamenting in …

As little children we are often afraid of the dark and of the unseen things that might lurk there.

As adults, we are more comfortable with turning the lights out; more certain that in the morning the sun will rise and banish the nightmares away. Yet deep within us, many fears remain: fear of change, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of anything terrible happening to the ones that we love, fear of being the one left behind – grief-stricken and alone …

… like the mother, the dear friend, the faithful disciples of Jesus who had stood as helpless witnesses to his suffering and death; who in the dismal light of early dawn and with great despair in their hearts travelled together to his tomb … . 

TiS 345 Were you there? (verses 1-5 only)

4/ 5 women walk into the church with  symbols which they place on a bare altar. 

  • One carries the Christ candle with five nails pressed into it in the shape of the cross. 
  • One carries a large stone to represent the cold, sealed tomb.
  • One carries a folded white table cloth to represent the folded grave clothes. 
  • One carries a perfume diffuser or incense stick to represent the spices that they brought for his body. 
  • The optional fifth brings a bright basket of eggs (two normal and two which have have had the insides blown out) to represent new life and be used in talking with the children – this symbol is not placed on the altar, but on the floor in front of it.  

As they lay their items on the altar, they pray:

1st: Lord, I weep with all who suffer,
                              with all who are persecuted,
  with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

2nd: Lord, I weep with those who are lonely,
                                 with those who have buried a beloved,
                                 with those for whom life is harder than death.

3rd: Lord, I weep with all who are oppressed,
                                 with all who are bound by their addiction,
                                 with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

4th: Lord, I weep where the land is burning,
                                 where war has erupted,
                                 where tempers run high.

5th: Lord, I weep with babies abandoned
in garbage bins and school bathrooms,
                              with children abused by the people they trust,
                              with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed.

Together: Lord, I weep. I weep. I weep.                                                     
                                
 They join the congregation, sitting at the front of the church. 

Looking for life …

The transformation of the altar is enacted as the Gospel is read.

Luke 24:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 

The incense/diffuser is lit and placed to the side of the altar (on the rail, pulpit, a smaller table).

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The stone is lifted and placed on the side of the altar, on the ground, opposite side to the basket.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

The nails are pulled out from the candle and placed next to the stone. The candle is lit and placed on the side with the incense.

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The table cloth is unfolded and draped over the altar. The candle is returned to the centre.

Alleluia! This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to our Lord! Alleluia!

Prayer:

Living One,
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.

Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Amen.

TiS 370 Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Opening up …

Children’s Address (or sermon starter)

As you look at our Easter table, do you notice anything strange about it? Something that maybe doesn’t really belong there? (As my basket is a giant yellow chick popping out of its shell, I’m sure that the kids will be quite quick to spot it).

Hmmmm … this looks a little out of place. Should we see what is in it? Invite the kids to take a peek – but don’t let them touch yet. Yes! Yes! It’s full of eggs! These must be Easter eggs!! Would you like to eat one? (Taking care to pick a heavy egg which obviously still has yolk inside it, offer it to one of the children who should recoil at the thought of eating a raw egg).

Depending on their responses say something like, So it’s not an Easter egg? It’s just a normal chicken egg!?! Well, if it’s just a normal chicken egg then there should be something inside it. 

Crack the egg open into a bowl. O yes, you’re quite right. That’s not an Easter egg at all. I wouldn’t want to eat that either – not unless it was scrambled, with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce on top.

But did you know that are some old, old stories that tell us where that the first Easter eggs were actually chicken eggs to start with? 

My favourite is the story of Simon the Cyrene. Simon was a farmer. His wife had sent him into Jerusalem one day to sell his produce to all the city folk who were preparing for a special feast  that  evening.   Simon had eggs to sell, something that everyone would need for their Seder table.  But when he got to the marketplace, there were people everywhere, shouting and pushing and spitting. So Simon put his basket down and pushed his way to the front to see what was going on. There, on the road, surrounded by soldiers was a man struggling under the weight of a wooden cross. He looked weak, like he had been up all night and taken a really bad beating.

As Simon watched, the man fell to his knees with exhaustion. One of the soldiers kicked him in the side. Another yelled at him to stand up. Simon just couldn’t help himself. He rushed forward to help – and so the soldiers ordered him to carry the cross of Jesus all the way up a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. 

There Simon watched as the whole sky turned black and Jesus died, hanging on that cross between two criminals. His heart was sad, but as he turned back he suddenly remembered: he had left his basket of eggs behind! His wife was going to be soooo mad at him.  He rushed back to the marketplace, hoping, hoping, hoping – and yes! There they were! Right where he had left them!! Remarkably not a single egg was missing, but, even more remarkably, the eggs were no longer white but brightly coloured and glittering. What a surprise!

Not like these eggs. Break the second full egg into the bowl. When we break them, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And that can be a little bit boring, and very disappointing.

Maybe that’s what it was like for the women we read about in the Gospel story. They went to the tomb which had been sealed shut with a large stone – knowing that inside would be Jesus’ body. Where there’s a closed tomb or a covered grace, there’s always a dead body. That’s just the way it is.

Next, pick up one of the blown eggs without really drawing attention to it and break it in the same way as you did the others. It should crumble in your hand.

Wait a minute! That isn’t right! That shouldn’t happen!!

Repeat with the remaining egg. Note the children’s curiosity and exclamations.  

These eggs are empty. Just like the tomb was when the women got there. They expected to see a body. But that’s not what they found! Instead they met two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.

And that’s what Easter is all about – surprises. The unexpected happening right in front of our eyes. An empty tomb, a living Lord, new possibilities.

The children can be engaged in an activity like decorating or hunting for these “signs of life” – edible ones this time. 

Old Testament Reading (if using): Isaiah 65:17-25

 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Meditation/Reflection: Coming to Life

My focus is on “coming to life” in response to the angel’s question: why do you look for the living among the dead? The Isaiah passage points to the nature of the resurrection life that Christ makes possible: healing, delight, health, security, fruitfulness, meaningful work, reconciliation etc. The second half of the service consists of symbolic rituals/responses enacting this new life.    

Let us pray (words by Tess Ward – adapted):

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

As we leave the old
and step out into the new this day,
bring new life to our fingers
that we might touch the signs of Your life among us
and have faith.

The elements for Holy Communion are brought to the table
during the singing of:

TiS 373 Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life in the sacred meal we eat
that we might know You
in the breaking of our daily bread.

The elements are blessed and communion is shared.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
to the work of our hands this day
that we might trust
the abundance of Your gifts. 

Thank offerings are brought to the altar or collected by stewards.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
when You interrupt our selfish dreamings
and name those that need Your love and care
as our sisters and brothers. 

The names of the sick and hurting are spoken.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life to our eyes
that we might see You beside us behind our closed doors
and set forth with hope and with wonder
to proclaim Your eternal life
and everlasting love for the whole wide world.

Closing hymn: TiS 380 Yours be the glory

Sending out …

Alleluia!
Go in joy and peace with the Living One
who leads us forward.

Alleluia!
In the name of Christ, we come to life!