I've always been of the thinking that Easter Sunday worship isn't as powerful without a Good Friday service.
I know, I know. How can the message of Christ's, and in turn our, Resurrection be any less powerful ever!? It's the day of Christ's victory over death for all of humanity. That's huge!
But ... He had to die an earthly death first. It was real. It was brutal. The Son of God was beaten, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and executed. It happened. And it happened for me and all of us. It's a night that calls for real darkness, and we were blessed at my church to be able to observe with reverence Christ's total outpouring of his love and life for the world.
For our Good Friday worship service, we observed the liturgy of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross. I posted the form for this service last Friday morning.
We treated the service much like a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a very popular Advent and Christmas service, where our salvation history is told through nine scripture lessons, from Adam and Eve to Isaiah to the birth of Christ. In between each reading there's some kind of musical response, an Advent or Christmas carol, or an anthem of some sort.
We offered a brief introduction to start the service to set the stage with an anthem from the choir and then a greeting and instructions from our pastor. With an opening hymn we started to formal part of the service with the reading of the Seven Last Words. In between each word reading there was a response of some sort that complemented the reading preceding it. It wasn't all just music; a member of the church responded to one reading with a poem. Our pastor also offered his homily before the final word as a response.
We also created an atmosphere of reverence through use of lighting. The lights were dim at the start of the service in the sanctuary and were brought down as the service went on. We also lit our narthex sparingly with candle light to encourage a quiet awe from the moment the congregation entered the building. There were six candles lit in the sanctuary on the altar as well as the Christ Candle to symbolize each Word of Christ. As each reader (both clergy and laity) read a word the held one of the candles and blew it out and the finish of their verse, symbolizing the dying life of Christ. The final candle to be blown out was the Christ Candle, by our senior pastor. As that final candle was blown out, nearly all light was put out in the sanctuary, save two small spotlights on the altar table focused on the Cross in the center. All of that led to a silent dismissal at the end of the service.
It was a bit of a risky undertaking at this church. They've been doing a Tenebrae service here on Good Friday for many, many, years. Which of course meant that I needed to change it up immediately! We incorporated Tenebrae elements into the service though, with the dim lighting, and the extinguishing of candles. All that I know is that as we sang the lyric "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?", I felt more and more throughout the night that I was able to go there. It's not all the time that I'm able to worship as I'm leading it, but I was there on Good Friday. I thank God for that.