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From Sacrifice to Communion

A Good Friday Service Celebrating the Way of the Cross

This Good Friday service focuses on Mark 14-15. As Jesus cries out from the cross, the curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom, opening the way into the Holy of Holies. The service begins with the Old Testament background of the tabernacle and temple and culminates in communion in the most holy presence of God, not just for the High Priest, but for everyone who comes by way of the cross.

The highlight of the service is an opportunity for people to come forward for confession, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. The three stations and visual elements encourage people to take more time than they otherwise might.

The service works best if a pastor or worship leader can move freely among the various “stations” (see sidebar).
To include multiple voices consider having the pastor or worship leader serve as the narrator and having one or two others read the Scripture passages as indicated here. (The challenge with using multiple readers is to make sure that the Scripture flows directly out of the narrator’s speech without pause.)

Prelude
[Encourage a quiet mood by projecting the cue “Please take this time to meditate and pray” or printing words to that effect in the liturgy.]

Invocation

Message
Narrator: After sin made its way into the world, people began making sacrifices to atone for the sinful things they had done. This need for atonement was felt by all, but even in the act of atonement people often sinned. Take, for example, the story of the Israelites and the golden calf.
Reader 1: “[Aaron took the gold the people gave him] and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’ So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings” (Ex. 32:4-6).
Narrator: This would never do! There could be no false gods, no images, no stand-ins for God. God decided to guide the people into making right sacrifices. So he instructed them to make a tabernacle.

[Project model of tabernacle.]

Narrator: It was a tent-like structure made from the finest curtains, hung from gold hooks and wooden rods overlaid with gold. It was not large, since it would have to be transported. But it would be holy, and was not to be touched or handled by the common people. The tabernacle was the place where God lived among them, even though they knew that
Reader 2: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24).

[Narrator moves to the altar.]

Narrator: In front of the tabernacle was an altar for animal sacrifice. Its sides were built up with gold-covered boards, with horns on the corners, and a large grate for burning animal sacrifices in the middle. In Old Testament times, it was necessary to make blood-sacrifices to God, for sin was a serious offense to a holy God. Sacrifices reminded people of their sins and provided the assurance of forgiveness.

[Narrator moves to basin.]

Narrator: At the entrance to the tabernacle, there was a basin where the priests would wash their hands and feet. The tabernacle was a holy place: The priests wore special garments with gold breastplates and an emblem engraved with the words “holy to the Lord.” There was anointing oil and incense burning on another small altar, with a fragrance never to be imitated because it also was holy to the Lord. The entire tabernacle was a reminder that God is holy. Yet the tabernacle was among the people, and so it was also a reminder that God was among them—and that made them holy. God had said to them,
Reader 1: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession” (Deut. 14:2).
Narrator: God was among the people—but they were not allowed to forget that God is dangerously holy.

[Narrator moves to the curtain.]

Narrator: At one end of the tabernacle, there was a curtain blocking off a small area called the Holy of Holies. It contained only one item: a box called the Ark of the Covenant.

[Project model of Ark.]

Narrator: Overlaid with pure gold, the Ark was not large, and it had a removable cover. On the cover of the box (called the atonement cover or mercy seat) sat two cherubim, their wings stretched toward each other. The holy God, whose face could not be seen, even by Moses, and whose glory and holiness could destroy sinful humanity, was there between the cherubim. The Holy of Holies was so holy that only the high priest could go in, and then only once a year.

[Narrator moves between the stations.]

Narrator: On that day, the high priest would wash carefully and dress in clean white garments and a white turban. First he would reach behind the curtain with two coals and incense to create a smokescreen filling the Holy of Holies. He would slaughter a bull for his own sins, taking blood and sprinkling it on the atonement cover. Then he would slaughter one goat for the sins of the people and sprinkle that blood on the atonement cover. He sent another goat—the scapegoat—into the wilderness, carrying the sins of the people far away. In those actions, the people were reminded that a holy God does not take sin lightly. Forgiveness comes at the price of blood.
Reader 1: “When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves . . . [and said,] “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb. 9:19-22)
Narrator: When the people came to the Promised Land, the tabernacle came with them. Years later, Solomon built a beautiful temple, which was later destroyed and rebuilt. Eventually, Herod the Great supported the building of a massive temple in Jerusalem, which was the Jewish temple at the time of Jesus. God was in his sanctuary in the deep recesses of the temple, with the curtain in place to protect the high priest, the priestly servants, and all the people from God’s holy presence. On the day when Jesus was crucified, the curtain remained safely in place.
The events of Good Friday began late Thursday night. Jesus was arrested in the garden. A meeting of the Sanhedrin was hastily called, but the witnesses were liars who could not agree on what Jesus had said or done. Some stood up and said,
Reader 2: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man’” (Mark 14:58).
Narrator: Jesus actually said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” which John understood to be referring to Jesus’ body.

[Reader 2 reads Mark 14:60-65]

Narrator: Since the Jewish leaders were not allowed to sentence anyone to the death penalty, Jesus was brought to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate did not see any reason to sentence him to death. But
Reader 1: “wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate . . . had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).
Narrator: Soldiers led him away. Since Jesus was now too weak to carry his own cross, a man named Simon was pulled off the street to help him.

Choral Response: “Via Dolorosa” arr. Thomas Fettke, Word Music
“Holy God” SNC 139

[Cross is carried into the sanctuary and placed in the stand.]

Reader 1: [read Mark 15:25-38]

[Narrator stands by the curtain. Release cord so the curtain parts.]

Narrator: The barrier between God and people is torn from top to bottom! Now the way to God is open to everyone!
Reader 2: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever” (Heb. 6:19-20).
Narrator: Through the cross, we have a new high priest, a better sacrifice:
Reader 1: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, Christ came into the world. . . . We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:4-5, 10).
Narrator: In Christ, God’s people are made holy and clean—not by the body and blood of an animal, but by the body and blood of God’s perfect and eternal sacrifice:
Reader 2: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies . . . because of your evil behavior. But now God has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:21-22).

[Narrator moves to basin while saying the following:]

Narrator: I invite you to come to the basin. Pause to confess your sins and repent. If you like, wash your hands as a symbol of your cleansing in Christ.
Reader 1: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Narrator: Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, indicating to them that he was willing and able to make them clean. He will do the same for us.

[Narrator moves to the cross.]

Narrator: Think about the sacrifice Jesus made for you. If you wish, you may kneel at the foot of the cross and thank him.

[Narrator moves to the table; elders bring in the bread and cup.]

Narrator: The mercy seat shrouded in smoke has become the open table of fellowship with God. The Holy of Holies has become the place where all of God’s people are welcome. We are there, in the presence of God, without fear or shame! God is always with us:
Reader 2: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
Narrator: Here at the table of the Lord we come as holy people into the presence of a holy God and live to tell about it! No priest stands between us and God—except Jesus Christ, our Savior and Friend! We bring no sacrifice, because Jesus has provided it. And so we come to God’s table, holy, spotless, into the presence of a holy and righteous God.

[Narrator breaks bread and lifts the cup.]

Narrator: The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ. The cup which we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ.
Reader 1: “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and we have a great priest over the house of God. So let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19-22).

[As communion is served, musicians play songs.]

“Let Us Draw Near” SNT 221
“Since Our Great High Priest, Christ Jesus” PsH 230, SNT 217
“Before the Throne of God Above” CSW 28
“Beneath the Cross of Jesus” CSW 26
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321/324, PH 100/101, PsH 384, SFL 166, TH 252, WR 261
“Behold the Lamb” CSW 27
“What Wondrous Love” CH 314, PH 85, PsH 379, SFL 169, TH 261, WR 257
“Oh, to See the Dawn (The Power of the Cross)” SNT 105
“Christ, the Life of All the Living” PsH 371

Prayer and Benediction
Narrator: You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Let the glory of God shine through you!

Closing Song:
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” CH 316, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284
“Lift High the Cross” CH 450, PH 371, PsH 373, SFL 171, SWM 243, TH 263, WR 287
“Now Behold the Lamb” SNC 144
“There Is a Redeemer” CH 308, SNC 145, SWM 128, WR 117
“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” CSW 14, SNC 77, SWM 207

Excerpt

Setting Up the Stations

  • Rear of platform: Holy of Holies, with the communion table behind the curtain; bread and cup to be brought in later. (We used two stacks of fabric-covered chairs for the structure, and a cord supporting two drapes pinned to the stacks of chairs for the curtain. Releasing the cord gives the appearance of the curtain being torn.)
  • Front of platform: Have available a large cross with stand to be brought in at appropriate time. Set up one or two lecterns for the Scripture readers.
  • Center aisle front: Basin with towels.
  • Center aisle middle: Altar in front of the tabernacle (We put some chairs in a square).
  • Video projection: Models of the tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant are available on the Internet, and can be projected at the appropriate time.