In the Episcopal church, Good Friday is one of the days in the church calendar set aside for “special acts of discipline and self-denial” (BCP p. 17). Traditionally that has been understood to mean fasting and attendance at church at some time during the day or evening. For the past several years, St. Philip’s Good Friday liturgy has been scheduled from 12 noon to 3 p.m., which are the traditional hours of Jesus’ suffering and death. Last year we began a new (for us) format, the “Seven Last Words of Christ.” The service was in seven segments, with each segment focusing on one of the seven statements by Jesus from the cross. Using these sayings in Good Friday liturgies has been a tradition since the 16th century. Each segment also featured prayers, hymns, Bach’s Passion Chorales, opportunities to venerate the cross, and a meditation offered by a guest homilist.
This same service format will be used on Good Friday 2013, Friday, March 29, from noon to 3 p.m. In the first segment of the service, the Rev. Jim Hobert, Pastor, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, will preach on “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34). The text for the Rev. David Wilkinson, Pastor, St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, will be “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). The Rev. Raven Gaston, Associate Pastor, Catalina United Methodist Church, will preach on “Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” (John 19: 26-27). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46) will be the text for the Rev. Anne Sawyer, Co-Founder and Head, Imago Dei Middle School. The Rev. Allen Breckenridge, a member of St. Philip’s affiliated clergy, will preach on “I thirst.” (John 19: 28). The Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, Episcopal Chaplain, University of Arizona, will speak about “It is finished.” (John 19: 30). Finally, the Rev. Megan Traquair, Vicar, Church of the Apostles in Oro Valley, will take the text “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23: 46).
In the first segment of last year’s Good Friday service, the Rev. John Lillie, Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Foothills, preached on “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34) He contrasted the “fist-clenched world” we live in with Jesus’ unconditional forgiveness from the cross, comparing it to the response of the Pennsylvania Amish community a number of years ago in the face of the school shootings that took so many of their children, as well as other examples of iconic moments of forgiveness. He suggested that taking as our beginning point this unconditional love is our challenge for Good Friday. The text for the Rev. Lujet McCullough, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, was “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 43). She focused on the words of hope Jesus expressed to one of the thieves hanging on the cross beside him, and the gift this offered in the midst of suffering. The “Good News” on Good Friday is that in our own moments of isolation, shame, despair, and suffering, Jesus offers us new life and hope, a shared future and a shared present with him. The Rev. N. Jean Rogers, one of St. Philip’s affiliated clergy, preached on “Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” (John 19: 26-27) She painted a vivid picture of the grief a mother experiences seeing one of her children die, and how Mary at the foot of the cross, in reaching out to John, set an example of finding hope in suffering by reaching out to others with compassion. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46) was the text for the Rev. Teresa Blythe, United Church of Christ Minister and Director, Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction. She used it to show the real, understandable, human Jesus, and to connect with him through the pain of losses we have experienced, that shows itself in that angry, desperate, completely human question. The Rev. Susan Anderson-Smith, Cofounder and Chaplain, Imago Dei Middle School (as well as an affiliated clergy at St. Philip’s), explained the metaphorical significance of Jesus’ statement “I thirst.” (John 19: 28) In saying he thirsts, Jesus is fulfilling scripture, and ready to “drink the cup that the Father has given him.” The Rev. Lee Milligan, Senior Minister, Casas Adobes Congregational United Church of Christ, spoke about “It is finished.” (John 19: 30) He posited that Jesus died such a death to put an end to our practice of seeing God and Christ only through the eyes of our own need, and that Jesus’ desire is for his presence in our lives to be “never so small as to be understood rather than to be experienced.” Finally, the Rev. Dr. Lucas Mix, Episcopal Chaplain, University of Arizona, took the text “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23: 46) He called on the congregation “to commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life to God, so that his Spirit may dwell in us and that we might find the fullness of love and forgiveness in realizing that only in this way can we be fully ourselves.” The entire texts of the Good Friday homilies are available on the “Sermons” page of St. Philip’s web site.
The final segment of the service included a dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel according to John. The readers who participated found it to be a moving experience. The final segment also included the Solemn Collects from our Prayer Book and the “Mass of the Pre-Sanctified” with communion from the reserved sacrament. There is no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday; communion is served from what was consecrated on Maundy Thursday and reserved at the Altar of Repose, and any remaining hosts are consumed at the altar on Good Friday as a powerful symbol of Jesus’ death.
At 5:45 p.m. on Good Friday, St. Philip’s will also experience another “Seven Last Words of Christ.” The Schola Cantorum, with soloists, violin duo and organ, will present Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). The “Seven Last Words” is a work of intense spiritual edification and ravishing beauty. It tells the story of the crucifixion from the point of view of three different Gospel writers, sung by soprano, alto, and tenor soloists. The part of Jesus is sung by a baritone soloist, and the bass is the voice of the thief on the adjoining cross. Soloists include Larry Alexander as Jesus, soprano Sarah Spurlin, alto Anne Parker, tenor Doug Spurlin, and bass Karl Yordy.
Heinrich Schütz is regarded as one of the most important composers before the time of J.S. Bach and influenced many composers following his generation. Although he wrote in modal language, his music clearly shows that he is in a transition to a more major/minor tonality.
In addition to musical interpretations of the seven last words, the format of the evening’s presentation will offer moments of silence and ringing of solemn bells for reflection.
You are invited to deepen your Lenten journey by experiencing the Seven Last Words of Christ on Good Friday.