April 2, 2021 – Good Friday
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Message from the Rev. Helen Smith
Welcome to this time of worship on Good Friday. May the Spirit bless our reflection and our prayer as we gather at the foot of the cross.
Rev. Helen Smith
Call to Worship: PWS&D Liturgy
You can listen to the audio recording with Rev. Helen Smith, joining in unison with her and Rev. Bob Smith, while consulting the text below, or just use the text.
Spoken by One (L) / Spoken by All (P)
L: The night and day are dark and difficult. This man did not deserve to be hit and spat upon— denied, forsaken, mocked.
P: Crucify him! Crucify him!
L: This is the hardest part of the journey—Jesus betrayed, arrested, brought before the authorities, tried and condemned. Beaten, rejected, a crown of thorns pressed on his brow, and the crowd chants “Crucify him!”
P: Crucify him! Crucify him!
L: Head bowed down, the Lord of life is condemned to die. O Lord, was this for us?
P: God, forgive us for all the ways we have left you and not followed you and your ways.
L: It is finished. The temple veil torn. The world is dark. Silence.
L: Let us pray.
All: God of truth, keep us from being distracted from following you, until the journey is complete, and death is trampled down by death and eternal life is given to all. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Book of Praise – 231 “When I survey the wondrous cross”
- Video with on-screen words with one minor difference from those in the hymnbook.
- Words (1707) by English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts (1674–1748). Music (tune: “Rockingham”) adapted in 1790, from an earlier 1780 tune, by English musician Edward Miller (1735–1807), with later harmony created by English composer Samuel Webbe (the elder, 1740–1816). Words, music and harmony in the public domain.
- Audio recorded by the St. Michael’s Singers (now called the Coventry Cathedral Chorus) in Coventry Cathedral; video created by the Chet Valley Churches, in south Norfolk, England.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
God of the cross, on this day of betrayal and death, we come to the foot of the cross. We remember those times we have been part of the crowd, seeking our best interest over what is right and good. We remember those time when we chose the path of safety over loyalty to your way. We remember the ways we have wandered away from your presence, only to complain that we are abandoned.
God of the cross, for all the ways we have missed the mark, all the ways we have come up short, forgive us. Through your grace bring us back into relationship with you. Help us find the path again.
…time of silent prayer…
We ask for these things in the name of Jesus, and we continue to pray in the prayer that he taught us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.
Assurance of Pardon
Even in the face of betrayal and rebellion, even in the face of death and denial, even in the face of fear and despair, God’s grace knows no bounds. We are forgiven. We are called back into relationship. We are set back on the path that leads to the realm of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and musician, sometimes throws into his work a bit of Bible. Sometimes his biblical references get a bit confused. In his most covered song, “Hallelujah”, he seems to confuse David with Samson. “Suzanne” was one of his first poems to become a popular song. I was listening to it the other day and one part of it particularly hit me, probably because we are in the season of Lent: “Jesus was a sailor, when he walked upon the water, and he spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden tower…” “A long time watching from a lonely wooden tower.” What did Jesus see during that long time watching?
He saw two thieves, crucified with him, one on his left, one on his right. One mocked him, derided him saying “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us”. The other knew that he deserved to die and that Jesus did not. He recognized Jesus’ kingship and said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday, 2021, which of those thieves best characterizes you or me?
Did he see Pilate in the distance, the government person, the symbol of Rome? As the Roman governor, Pilate had the last word. He could have saved Jesus if he’d wanted to. But when it became clear that he would stir up a nasty hornet’s nest by setting the man free, and when the people of Jerusalem pointed out that no true friend of Caesar would ever be soft on a man who had set himself up as a king to rival Caesar, Pilate prudently gave in to the pressures and said “Go ahead and crucify him if that’s what you have your hearts set on.”
To make it perfectly clear that he wanted no part in the dirty business, however, he said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” and in a dramatic gesture that not even the dullest colonial clod among them could fail to understand, stepped out in front of the crowd and went through a ritual handwashing in a basin of water he’d had them fill especially for that purpose.
For Pilate, it was not so much the terrible thing he’d done as the wonderful thing he’d proved incapable of doing. He could have stuck to his guns and resisted the pressure and spared the man’s life. Or if that is asking too much, he could have spared him at least the scourging and catcalls and the appalling way he died. Or if that is still asking too much, he could have spoken some word of comfort when there was nobody else in the world with either the chance or the courage to speak it. He could have shaken his hand. He could have said goodbye. He could have made some two-bit gesture which, even though it would have made no ultimate difference, to him would have made all the difference. But he didn’t do it. He didn’t do it, and on that basis alone you can almost believe the sad old legend is true that again and again his body rises to the surface of a mountain lake and goes through the motion of washing its hands as he tries to cleanse himself not of something he’d done, for which God could forgive him, but of something he might have done but hadn’t, for which he could never forgive himself.
And from that cross did Jesus see that other agent of Rome, the Roman Centurion, keeping watch over him on the cross, the Roman Centurion, who, after Jesus breathed his last, went public and declared Jesus’ innocence, praising God and declaring “Truly this man was innocent. Truly this man was God’s son.”
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday 2021, are we like the Roman authorities, and which one: like Pilate, wringing our hands for the things we might have done, but didn’t, or like the Centurion, finally, with Christ’s death, getting it?
Did he see those two people, Nicodemus & Joseph of Arimathea, two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin, prominent members of the Jewish establishment, who had the intestinal fortitude when all was said and done, when followers of Jesus were being hunted down, to come out of the closet as followers of Jesus? They had the courage and the love for Jesus to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ dead body, so they could give it a decent burial.
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday 2021, Does he see us as standing tall as his followers, in a world that is often hostile to his ways?
And what about disciples? From that lonely wooden tower did he see his disciples? Did he see Peter? Well, maybe not Peter’s physical presence. Most of the disciples were hiding out in fear. Peter, having denied Jesus three times, was probably hiding in shame, covering his ears as the rooster crowed. Jesus could see Peter at least in his mind and memory. Peter, who got it and didn’t get it. Peter the fisherman, called to fish for people, Peter, who was the first to declare that Jesus was the Christ, to whom Jesus would shortly after refer to as Satan because he didn’t get it that Jesus would die. Impetuous Peter, jumping into the water to walk on it, then faltering and starting to sink. Peter who said to Jesus, “You are not going to wash my feet,” and then “wash me everywhere”, and then went on to deny that he ever know Jesus.
He would have seen Mary Magdalene. She was there, with the other women who followed Jesus and helped him when he was in Galilee. Mary was there. Jesus had healed her, cast out not just one evil spirit but seven. And since that day she followed him, provided for him out of her resources, and she watched as he died. She watched as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea placed his body in the tomb.
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday 2021 does he see us, his disciples, blundering through like Peter, or faithful to the end and beyond like Mary Magdalene?
As he watched from that lonely wooden tower, he definitely saw Mary his mother and John, the disciple he loved because he spoke to them. They were there, at the foot of the cross. Maybe as he looked down, he remembered how he’d been a little hard on his mom, staying behind in the Temple at the tender age of 12, causing more than a little anxiety, and then again at the wedding feast in Cana, when she lets him know the wine has run out, he replies, “What concern is that to you and to me?” And when she came to visit with brothers and sisters, and knocked on his door, he says he recognizes whoever does the will of God as his mother and brothers and sisters. He seems a bit hard on her until the end, when cross-eyed with pain, he looks down from that lonely wooden tower and says something just for her: “Behold your son,” he says, indicating the disciple who was standing beside her, and then to the disciple, “Behold your mother”. Somebody to be a son to her. Jesus would be present in that disciple, he seemed to be saying, for her to live for, and to live for her.
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday 2021 he sees the parent who has grieved the death of a child. And he sees those who can comfort and care for the bereaved.
As Jesus watches from his lonely wooden tower this Good Friday, we are there. He watches us, with our weaknesses, our selfishness and greed, our doubts and denials, and fears, and with our strengths, in faith and in love, in gratitude and in grace and care. We are the thieves, the Pilates and the centurions, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, Peter and Mary Magdalene, John, and Mary. Sometimes one, and sometimes another. And Jesus says, “It is finished.” And he dies. His saving, exemplary work for all of us, no matter who we are, work which has led to this day, to this place, to this death, is now complete. Thanks be to God. Amen.
- “It Is Well with My Soul”. Words (1873) penned by American lawyer and Presbyterian elder Horatio Gates Spafford (1828–1888). Music by American composer Philip Paul Bliss (1838–1876). This arrangement, set to the Piano Sonata No. 14 “Moonlight Sonata” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), by American composer Cindy Berry. Words and music in the public domain. This arrangement copyright © 1989 Pilot Point Music; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed on the keyboard by Rachelle Risling, GCPC Music Director.
- Audio recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
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Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Now we know. All is grace. All is gift. You give us all good things, life and love, daily bread and water that quenches our thirst, friends and faith. Most of all, in Jesus, you meet us with a love that will never let us go. You utter words of mercy and forgiveness that override the hurts and heal our brokenness. You offer new beginnings where we had expected only dead ends.
We give you thanks and praise for the mystery of your suffering love that gives us life. We give you thanks and praise that you know our weaknesses and hear our prayers. We give you thanks and praise that all our dying and living is held in your good keeping.
Now we know. All is grace. All is gift. We give you thanks and praise. Amen.
Book of Praise – 233 “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
- Video with on-screen words, verses 1–5, exactly as in the hymnbook.
- Words and music, American 19th century spiritual. Words and music in the public domain. This arrangement by Melva Wilson Costen, copyright © 1990 Melva Wilson Costen.
- Performed by the GCPC Junior and Senior Choirs, with keyboard and audio production by GCPC Music Director Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
It is a time of waiting. We wait together and yet apart. We wait in the shadow of this day. And as we wait, we are not alone, for God is with us.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
- “Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Performed by Rachelle Risling (keyboard) and the GCPC Senior Choir. Audio and video production by Rachelle Risling.
- Audio and video recording copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Copyright © 2021 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated on 2021-04-01 at 17:15 – First version.