Remembering Good Friday

How might Good Friday lament look in practice?

Psalm 22

First, consider using Psalm 22 prominently, the very psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross. When Jesus spoke the words of Psalm 22, he identified with the sufferings of all the people of Israel who had spoken or sung that psalm before him. When we speak the words of Psalm 22, we identify with our Lord and Savior.

Many churches read Psalm 22:1-18 as a Scripture reading for Good Friday. Others sing a version of Psalm 22 following the traditional Good Friday Old Testament reading from Isaiah 53. (For musical settings of Psalm 22, see Psalter Hymnal 22, Trinity Hymnal 79, Methodist Hymnal752).

Alternatively, consider using Psalm 22 as part of an extended intercessory prayer. Begin Good Friday intercessions with Psalm 22:1-21, followed by extemporaneous prayers of intercession and lament. Then conclude the prayers with verses 22-31, a decisive song of hope that anticipates Easter praise (see also the example that follows on pp. 14-15).

Prayers of Intercession and Lament

In some congregations, an extended time of congregational prayer is the first thing to be cut in planning Good Friday worship. It actually should be one of the most important acts of Good Friday worship.

Prayers of intercession and lament on Good Friday should allow for two things: for those who suffer to express their honest lament and for all worshipers to identify and express solidarity with those who suffer, both in the congregation and in the world at large.

In part, Good Friday lament can be practiced through the use of the full traditional intercessory prayer for Good Friday, just like the one used by the medieval church. This is an example of a medieval liturgical practice that never should have been given up. If you look in most prayer books, you will find a long “solemn prayer” or “solemn intercessions” or “solemn prayer of the faithful” indicated for Good Friday (see, for example, Book of Common Worship [Presbyterian], 283-286 or The Book of Common Prayer [Episcopal], 277-280.) This is the modern-day version of this traditional medieval prayer. Some congregations may wish to use this same prayer in their Good Friday worship. Others may wish to use the comprehensive pattern of this prayer to structure more spontaneous prayers of lament and intercession.

Preaching

Many Good Friday sermons are—appropriately— sermons about salvation, about the way that the cross achieves victory from sin and death. But it’s also appropriate to preach about suffering, both Christ’s and ours. Consider, for example, sermons on the words of Paul that confer mysterious significance on the suffering of those who are united with Christ in death (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 1:5, 4:10; Phil. 3:10; also 1 Peter 4:12-16). Some sermons are intended to help people think correctly. But on Good Friday, consider preaching sermons that help worshipers pray more profoundly.

Songs and Hymns

Finally, look for hymns and songs not only about Christ’s passion, but also about the world’s pain and suffering. Many hymn texts explore the link between Christ’s suffering and ours in unforgettable ways. Consider this example:

No pain that we can share
but he has felt its smart.
All forms of human grief and care
have pierced that tender heart.

—O Perfect Lifee of Love, PsH 380, st. 3