Service for Year A Good Friday
God of Wonders,
We celebrate this day of wonder:
A day on which we are reminded of the depth and power of your love for us.
A love so great as to risk everything, to give everything, for our needs
We confess that there are times when we take this love for granted,
there are times we fail to recognise it at all.
Today, as we come to the foot of the cross once more, show us again the wonder of your great love.
Show us the scars of Jesus, so we might truly believe and trust
in your fathomless love.
In Jesus' name, we pray.
Today is called “Good Friday”, yet there is much about it, which is not at all good. It is the day which reminds us of the absolute worst humans are capable of being. The story of Good Friday is a story of betrayal, of a miscarriage of justice, and of an innocent person killed. It is a story which leaves us cold, because we can recognise ourselves somewhere in it.
Yet it is called “Good Friday”. In older times, it was called “God's Friday”. Although the events of the day might of themselves appear evil, and many of them are fuelled by evil motivations in human hearts, the events of this day ultimately point to God's triumph over evil. We can never understand the events of this day in isolation – we must come back on Easter Sunday to hear the ultimate truth of Good Friday.
Hymn Together in Song 349 In the cross of Christ I glory
Isaiah told the nation of Israel the cost of being faithful to God. Indeed, the cost to one person, might benefit everyone, if Isaiah could be believed. Isaiah spoke to a nation in exile, who might have seen their own plight in the story of Isaiah's suffering servant. In later years, the Jews came to see the servant as the Messiah – the anointed one, God's chosen representative. Christians have come to recognise the servant as Jesus.
Reading Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12
Could one person carry another's infirmities? Another person's burden of guilt? In the events of Good Friday, we see an innocent person, suffering for the evil of others.
There were a lot of people plotting evil, planning evil, in the early hours of Good Friday morning. There was an enemy in the guise of a friend; someone who had been a follower of Jesus throughout his ministry, who had turned traitor. A servant who had sold his master for a bag of silver.
Reading: John 18:1-11
Of course, the traitor was not the only disciple Jesus had. The others all ran away. All except Peter. Peter had had his ups and downs with Jesus. In a very short time Jesus had praised him for seeing what only the Holy Spirit could have shown him, and then called him 'satan' for having contradicted what Jesus had told him of coming events. It was Peter, who, on Thursday night said “I'll never deny you!” And it was Peter, to whom Jesus had said, “By morning, you'll say three times you don't know me.” Peter tried to be as good as his word. He honestly did. When all the others ran away, he stuck by Jesus. But as the tension built, and the danger grew, Peter found himself unable to resist the desire for self-protection.
Reading John 18:12-27
We could point the finger at Peter, just as the people in the courtyard did. We could say, “You, too. When the going got rough. You ran away just like the others.” We could. And we would be right. But where would we have been, in that cold, dark, early morning. Would we have run away even before reaching the courtyard? Peter was only in the position to deny Jesus, because he had been more courageous, more loyal, than all of the others, but what value was courage and loyalty? It didn't change anything for Jesus, and it didn't change anything for Peter. It would have done no good for Peter to die alongside Jesus. It would simply have been a wasted life. Another evil element in a day when evil seemed to take control of everything.
Peter would eventually give his life for Jesus. But not yet. This was not the time. On this day, Jesus was alone. With Peter's denial, Jesus' last friend deserted him.
And the leaders of his own people, afraid to stain themselves with an innocent person's blood, handed Jesus over to the tender mercies of the Roman Governor. The gospel writers have been very kind to Pilate, all things considered. History tells us he was a bloodthirsty man, who ruled his area with fear, violence and intimidation. He had no qualms about sending people to their death.
Reading John 18:28-40
If Jesus had wondered about how alone he was, he had no doubts now. Less than a week earlier, he'd been the most popular person in town. People had lined the streets, calling out to him. Now they were yelling for his blood.
In Roman times, it was customary for a person condemned to death to be flogged. They were beaten with whips, which had pieces of metal attached. The whips were designed to tear flesh. Some people did not survive the flogging: they lost too much blood, or their injuries were too severe for them to live to face their ultimate punishment. A Roman flogging was crude, but it was as vicious as any modern form of torture. To add psychological torture to it, insults and mind-games only made it all worse.
Reading: John 19:1-16a
How alone must Jesus have felt! Betrayed, abandoned and denied by his closest friends. His own people calling for his death. Foreign soldiers torturing and insulting him. How alone could he have been? More alone than at any time ever before. The scriptures said anyone who was crucified was under a curse from God. Jesus had always had an intimate relationship with God – throughout his human life. Throughout eternity, he had been one with God. Now, he stood, alone, isolated, God-forsaken. And through it all he had done nothing to deserve his fate. It was all the result of the evil in human hearts and minds.
Psalm 22: 1-18 (Responsive) from Uniting in Worship
there are times when we feel so alone,
that we wonder if you have abandoned us.
Yet, even in these times of desolation,
you are still with us,
in Jesus, who shared these same experiences.
You know what it is to be alone.
You know what it is to feel pain, to be rejected,
to face death.
Come to us in the pains and sufferings of our lives,
and help us to know your presence.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Hymn Together in Song 342 When I survey the wondrous cross
We often see pictures of the cross on the hill. It seems so distant, away from life. Really, crucifixions were held along the main roads, as a warning to others who would be disobedient to Roman rule. We only know of the people crucified either side of Jesus, but in reality, there may have been hundreds of people crucified at once. Huge numbers of people were killed in this way. It wasn't something out of the ordinary. It was a constant sign to a subject people, of the power of their overlords. While the people of Israel might have been granted the privilege of worshipping their own God, they knew it was Caesar they owed their lives to.
Even at his crucifixion, when he was most left alone, while soldiers gambled for his clothes; Jesus was concerned with the needs of those around him.
Reading John 19:16b-30
No-one walking by would wonder at Jesus' crime. The charge was written in the official and unofficial languages of the empire, and even the local language. Hew as the “king of the Jews”, a rival to Caesar. He had committed treason against Rome. What did the people who walked past think of this crucified king? Perhaps they thought him a hero, but didn't dare say so: having claimed to be a king in the face of Roman power. Perhaps they thought him a fool, who could have pressed his claim for kingship, if he'd been a smarter politician, if he'd been a soldier who'd raised an army. Perhaps they thought it was just another wasted life, among hundreds of wasted lives, a victim of the Roman oppression. Surely they did not think the salvation of the world was happening before their eyes. Surely the did not think that this death, among so many others, would change the relationship between God and humanity for ever.
The wonder of Easter Sunday has been explained away in all sorts of ways. It's been suggested that perhaps Jesus wasn't really dead. Yet, as his side was pierced, the writer of the gospel records that blood and water flowed from his side. He had no idea of the medical evidence he was giving – that Jesus' blood had stopped flowing for long enough to have settled into its various parts, clear plasma separating from the red blood cells.
Reading John 19: 31-42
Hymn Together in Song 209 And can it be that I should gain
Jesus was dead. To this day, there's a tomb in a garden, quite near some land which was once owned by one Joseph of Arimathea. It's not far from a raised area of ground, along a main road where many crucifixions are known to have occurred. You couldn't carry a body very far on Friday afternoon, the Sabbath began at sunset, and no-one could work on the Sabbath. The body of Jesus was wrapped in expensive linen cloths. His benefactor was a wealthy man. And a stone weighing perhaps two or two and a half tonnes was rolled across the entrance of the tomb. This was the end. Rolling the stone across the entrance was the final act, the closing off of a life. In years to come, the tomb would be re-opened, the bones swept aside and the tomb prepared for a new body – that was the custom of the days. Tombs weren't easy to close, and they weren't easy to open. But that didn't matter – those who went in didn't come out. Sometimes tomb robbers would come, and take the only item of value from a tomb – the linen cloths.
And that was the end. The women who had stayed with Jesus watched to see where he was buried, and they left. Jesus had died ignominiously. He had been buried. And he was alone.
But how often are ends really beginnings? When we bury a dead seed in the earth, life comes forth … Not straight away, of course. Not straight away. First there is a time of waiting. A time of not knowing.
We go out into our time of waiting, in silence.