Scripture: John 18:28-40
We did this service on Good Friday because a neighboring church had already planned a Maundy Thursday service. I believe that it could be used effectively on either evening—either with or without a celebration of the Lord's Supper.
I used Philippians 2:1-11 as a call to worship, followed by the singing of several opening songs: "Lift High the Cross," "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "Christ, the Life of All the Living."
A major part of the service was a dramatic reading of the story of John 18:28-19:16 by a narrator, a priest, Jesus, and Pilate (see sidebar). The story works well because it is played out on two stages with the Jews remaining outside Pilate's house (to remain ceremonially clean for Passover) and Jesus in the house of Pilate. Pilate moves back and forth between the two stages.
The first section, titled "Christ Accused," is an exchange between Pilate and the priest who brings charges against Jesus. Following this section, the choir sang "While Jesus Wept" and the congregation sang "Man of Sorrows, What a Name." During the congregational singing, one of four candles was extinguished and the sanctuary lights were dimmed.
The next section, "Christ Questioned," is a conversation between Jesus and Pilate. It contains the words of Jesus, "You are right when you say that I am a King." It ends with the singing of "As Moses Raised the Serpent Up." During the singing, another candle is extinguished, and the lights are further dimmed.
The next section is called "Jesus Rejected." It is an exchange between Pilate and the crowd, who are offered the choice of Jesus or Barabbas. The crowd is the congregation, and Pilate addresses his questions directly to them. When asked what they want done with Jesus, they shout "Crucify him! Crucify him!" During the service, I was amazed at the level of sound from the congregation. They clearly understood what they were being asked to do. Following their cry, we sang "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" and again the lights dimmed and a candle was extinguished.
The last section, "Christ Condemned," is a dialogue between Pilate, the priest, and finally the crowd, who cry, "We have no king but Caesar. Crucify him!" Following "Ah, Holy Jesus", which contains the line "I crucified Thee," the sanctuary is completely darkened except for the spot on the cross; the final candle is extinguished; and a single violin plays "Where You There When They Crucified My Lord?" The service ends with the bells chiming thirty-three times, and the congregation leaves in darkness and in silence.