I am sitting writing on the eve of what is possibly one of the most historic Easter Weekends – well certainly in my lifetime. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most important celebrations for Christians around the globe. In fact, for those who follow the Christian Calendar they are the center of the year – if not the faith.
On this day in some denominations priests renew their ordination vows before a Bishop. Many liturgical churches recall the Last Supper, others hold Tenebrae services well into the night. Tomorrow on Good Friday Christians around the globe remember the crucifixion of our Lord. Services are usually held reflecting traditions and cultures around the world. They range from shorter, perhaps western, evangelical services, to others like the ‘stations of the cross’ that last several hours. This year all that has changed! As I write this, half the countries around the globe are in lockdown.
As already mentioned, the Easter weekend, with public holidays on Friday and Monday, is historically a time set aside for worship and celebration. Yet for many it has become simply a long weekend – an opportunity to take four days off work, catch up with friends, or shoot down to the coast for a final dip in the sea before winter sets in. In South Africa we commemorate this weekend annually with incomprehensible carnage on our roads – the highest throughout the year. Perhaps that statistic alone tells us that we are missing the meaning of the holy-day?
This year all of that stops! We can’t visit friends or go to the shops (unless it’s for certain essentials). We can’t pop down to the Berg or the beach. In fact, we are forbidden to move between provinces. So, what should we do? Catch up on work, perhaps clean the garage? We could read a book or binge watch a new series on Netflix? Or is there something else we could do with the next four days?
I would submit to you that it is a unique opportunity to consider the original purpose of this weekend. It is in fact a wonderful opportunity to ponder and to pray…
We have an unprecedented occasion to consider again the significance of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, and to contemplate how those events relate to our lives. The primary way in which we do this is to simply follow these events in scripture. No one says it better than Eugene Peterson. He reminds us that we are not reading these accounts because they are new to us – if anything we know them too well. No! We read to enter into the story ourselves. We re-read these overly familiar passages not to find something new or novel, but rather to find ourselves in the story.
When I first entered ministry, we would gather on Good Friday for worship as well as a message – usually a long one. For most evangelicals the Easter celebrations present ample opportunity for a good gospel message. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this, in more recent years I have edged toward a more traditional approach. More liturgical traditions move the pulpit aside and focus on the story. A cursory glance at most lectionaries will reveal large portions of scripture that need to be covered. Usually a Psalm, a few chapters of Isaiah, a New Testament passage, and then several long chapters from the gospels. Not a lot of time left for a message.
The point, again to paraphrase Peterson, is to immerse ourselves in the story: to hear the call to worship from the psalms and to heed the raw challenge of the prophets. But most of all, the point is to listen once again to the account of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.
I invite you to read again the accounts from the earliest eyewitnesses. To read these events and to ponder their significance for your life.
And to pray
Then I would suggest that you pray. Not formally or out of habit. It could be out loud as you wander around your garden or in the quiet of your lounge. Prayer is intimidating to most of us but it’s not meant to be. Origin, one of the early Fathers of the church said prayer is simply “keeping company with God”.
One of the oldest (and perhaps lost) traditions of the Christian faith is to pray scripture. Why don’t you read and pray – as in, have a conversation with God:
I don’t know why this is here? This sounds stupid. I’m bored!
All of these responses, and more, are perfectly valid.
Slow down – you are not going anywhere (literally). Re-read the passage or chapter. There might be a phrase that stands out or interests you. Don’t study it – ponder it. Talk to the Father about it:
What has this got to do with me? How could this apply to my life?
Many who have journeyed before us on these well trodden paths recommend using a journal. Some pastors overfamiliar with scripture even write out passages. It helps them slow down – to ponder the passage. Journaling can in fact be a form of prayer. Write down what you feel the Father is highlighting to you. Record our thoughts, your personal reflections around a verse or a passage. My point here is not to detail the various practices but simply to encourage you to start. Read a passage, ponder it, and pray.
Many people have put this in different ways but I love the way John Wimber said it:
“Don’t just read scripture, allow scripture to read you.”
A colleague from the Anglican church down the road (Fr. Godfrey Henwood) a number of years back coached us in the ancient practice of ‘Lectio Divina’. I have never forgotten his encouragement:
“We don’t read for information, but for transformation.”
Last but by no means least, our world is in desperate need of prayer. Personally, the most meaningful prayers that I have prayed (or heard prayed), have been straight out of scripture. I am not talking about some formal recitation but often a heartfelt paraphrase. What I love about echoing scripture is that I am joining in the prayers of the church – not only around the world but throughout history. There is something about this that feels wonderful and powerful.
Some of what we read requires contemplation, but there are other passages or verses that speak right into our world at this time. Pray them, with the wider church, for the world. Pray them this weekend!
What follows are some suggestions for reading and immersing yourself in the story over Easter
The main gospel reading is Luke 22-23 but you can back up and read the whole account of the final week from Chapter 19.
On the eve of his arrest Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:1-22).Why don’t you read about the background to the Passover in Exodus 12? If you enjoy the account set aside some time to read the rest of Exodus.
The Prophetic Writings
The traditional reading from the prophets on Good Friday is Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.
Isaiah 40-66 almost stand alone and are considered some of the most powerful and important passages in the whole bible. This selection begins with the ‘comfort passages’ and moves on to the ‘suffering servant’ – central to the understanding of the gospel story. This entire section seems particularly appropriate to our world at this time. I am planning to spend part of the weekend in Isaiah 40-66.
The traditional Psalm reading for Good Friday is Psalm 22.
Alternative readings from the Anglican Church are Psalm 40 or Psalm 69.
There are more but perhaps that’s enough for now. Check back on Saturday and I will post the reading for Easter Sunday.
What I usually do is embed a hypertext to scripture references so that when you click on them it simply opens another page with the readings. I have intentionally not done this today. I would encourage you to find a bible, a journal and a pen. Find time and a place to sit quietly – and then read, ponder and pray.
My wife Bev has selected some songs that fit for Good Friday. I have attached the link below.
As part of your devotions why don’t you set aside some time not just to sing along to these songs but allow them to draw you into worship. Sing them as part of your prayers, your conversations with the Father. Remember that whether you are doing this with someone whom you are locked down with or alone, we are worshipping together, joining our voices in worship that is happening around the world this weekend.
Here’s the Good Friday Playlist.