HELP! Before Easter there’s Good Friday!
By Dr. John Bruington
This year on Good Friday, the music department at TAB is preparing a spectacular worship service. Our Music Director has put together a special presentation by the choir, a string quartet, and various dramatic devotional readings using some of the talent of the Church and community. We will even be taping and televising it to the city and surrounding communities on Good Friday. It looks to be spectacular – and remarkably – I scarcely have to do a thing!
But after 30 years in ministry, this will be one of the first times I’ve had such a luxury. Most of my ministry was out West in small and medium sized congregations that didn’t have the resources Tabernacle Presbyterian Church and Indianapolis offer. I’d been working with small and non-existent musical ministries which sometimes meant using some creative planning and thinking to make a Good Friday service something that would really help prepare the congregation for the celebration of Easter Sunday. I want to share one idea that worked well for me and could be done in nearly any size congregation.
Some 35 years ago during college at Purdue, [the editor and] I sang in their Glee Club. Al Stewart, our director exposed us to a great deal of music of all kinds – including some magnificent religious music. Al always said some of that would rub off on us – and sure enough, some five years later I found myself in seminary. Al was right.
He was also right about a piece we did one spring, retelling the story of the crucifixion with drama and music. It was based on the old gospel song, “ Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Between each stanza, an actor read a part as one of those who was actually there that day, followed by the narrator who drew a parallel between that character and someone in the same position today. It was really impressive and very well done – especially having the whole Glee Club, University Choir and the Elliott Hall of Music to pull it off.
I remember Al told us there would come a day, long after we graduated, when we would be in some church choir somewhere and remember this piece and be calling him to get the title, but I thought that highly unlikely. I was wrong.
Some 20 years later, serving in my third pastorate and desperately trying to do something different for Good Friday, I did remember this piece and wanted to get a copy for my Church. Unfortunately, Al was gone, the Glee Club was under new leadership, I was in South Dakota, and I had no idea how to find it. And then I realized I didn’t need to.
I found the hymn, “Were You There” was in public domain and also in our hymnal. We didn’t have the Purdue Glee Club, but did have the congregation to sing it. As for the “dramatic reading,” I found some folks willing to play with the characters and themes in the Passion accounts. What would one of the crowd who watched and simply shrugged in indifference have said if you asked him or her? They were there and so are people equally indifferent today.
How about one of the soldiers “just doing his duty?” How did he feel about it? Did he care or was it a way to strike out at his anger and bitterness at being posted in such a forlorn part of Rome’s vast Empire?
How about one of the disciples who ran off and abandoned Jesus? How did he feel that day and how about folks who discovered they weren’t such shining examples of disciples in their own world – keeping silent and doing nothing when they knew Christ expected better from them?
You don’t have to be a literary genius or a playwright to use your imagination and create your own “Were You There” Good Friday Service. It was a good spiritual event for me as well as the congregation as I prepared this simple but effective Good Friday service and I highly recommend it.
Dr. John Bruington is Senior Pastor at Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. His e-mail address is: email@example.com
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