In a change from our usual posts, here you will find the complete text of our Good Friday service, with links to the hymns we sang.
We meet this morning at the cross, to remember the events of Good Friday. As Holy Week began on Palm Sunday, we reflected on Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, surrounded by crowds declaring "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord". We also turned towards Maundy Thursday, hearing the story of the last supper and sharing in the bread and the cup, and now we begin where we ended, invited to gather with Jesus at his table.
And so before we approach the cross, we gather at the table. Just as Jesus and his disciples passed the bread and the cup amongst themselves, so we will do the same this morning, offering first the plate and then the cup around the circle. First though, let us take a few moments in quiet and in prayer.
Lord, there is a particular poignancy to sharing the bread and the cup, which are for us your body and your blood, on the day that we stop to remember your death. May we feel the full significance of what you did on the cross, and the full significance of what we do at this table. As we sit at the foot of the cross, its shadow is so long and so deep that its darkness can leave us lost for words, so let us pray with the words that Jesus gave us. Let us pray together the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
We remember that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
[to send bread] The body of Christ, given for you. Eat this in remembrance of him.
[to send cup] The blood of Christ, writing a new covenant for you. Drink this in remembrance of him.
[after sharing] “Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” Lord, with this bread and cup we have proclaimed your death, which speaks of your great love. May that love hold us and sustain us and lead us in hope, as we reflect on that sorrowful death. Amen.
Matthew 26:35-68, 27:11-61 | NIV
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”
Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”
[Then] Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
"By your resurrection power we shall rise." A look ahead there to the next part of the story. We can't pretend we don't know what is coming, and I'm not sure we should even try, because the truth is that we experience the Easter story all mixed up together. The pain and sadness of Good Friday, the confusion and emptiness of Holy Saturday, the hope and joy of Easter Sunday...they are all woven through and around each other in the pattern of our lives. That said, for the moment let us be willing to sit at the cross and dwell on the events of that day, entering into a time of wondering.
I wonder if you noticed anything new in the story this morning.
I wonder what part of the story affected you the most.
I wonder what part of the story seemed the most important.
I wonder if you could see yourself anywhere in the story.
I wonder if we could leave out any part of the story and still have all we need.
There is a cosmic quality to Matthew's telling of the crucifixion. The sky goes dark, the temple curtain is torn in two, earthquakes raise the dead. Not all of these details appear in the other gospels, and we can't be certain that all of them really happened, but they surely express something of the significance of that moment. It puts me in mind of WH Auden's 'Funeral Blues', which opens with the lines "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone / Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone". In times of great loss, the world simply cannot continue as it has done before, and here it is as though the whole of the created order is responding in grief and an effort to restore life.
There is a strangeness to the Easter story that we cannot fathom. That God should take on human life and give that life up to the most painful and humiliating of deaths should never cease to amaze us. As I told our Messy Church, there are lots of ways of thinking about why Jesus died and what happened at the cross. Sometimes we say that Jesus took the punishment for all the things anyone has ever done wrong so that we could know we are forgiven. Sometimes we say that Jesus died in order to defeat death and show us that it is not the end. Sometimes we say that Jesus wanted to teach us how to know God and live well even knowing it would upset people and lead to his execution. It all means that God loves us and wants the world to be better for us.
The original goodness of creation has been marred by our pride and greed and anger. It was true then and sadly it is still true now. That doesn't mean that the cross achieved nothing, but it does say that it was a beginning as much as it was an ending. We are forgiven and death is not final, but we still need to know God and live well, participating in the restoration of that original goodness. "A guilty world is washed in love's pure stream." Christ's death, this cosmic event which echoes through every time and in every place, tells us that all can and will be redeemed, and it will be done not by washing everything away in a flood of destruction and devastation, but by washing everything clean in a flood of mercy and grace. May we offer up all in our lives that needs to be washed, and accept the invitation to take part in the washing.
We are going to spend some time in prayer and contemplation now, and I want to pick up again on the language and imagery of water and washing. I invite you to take a stone and wash it, recognising what in your lives and our world needs to be washed, and trusting that God is making all things clean in time.
May you know how high and wide and long deep is the love that took Christ to the cross. May that love sustain you in all pain and sadness. And may that love wash over all the world with mercy and grace. Amen.