A Strange Community
This service is designed for use on Good Friday, but it would also be appropriate for use throughout the Lenten season. As it stands, the service runs about forty minutes, although it could be lengthened by the addition of extra anthems. We used one reader for the Scripture lessons and different readers for each of the reflections, although it could also be done the other way around. Scripture readings were taken from The Message.
Call to Worship
Song of Praise: “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” CH 309, PsH 479, WR 356
God of mercy, you have drawn us into this community of people who follow your Son, Jesus Christ. Draw us again into the story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Open our hearts by its truth. Renew our spirits by its grace. Deepen our walk with him who calls us friends and who gave his life to make it so. Amen.
The death of Jesus is at hand. It will happen in Jerusalem, at Passover. The chief priests and elders have been seeking for some time to kill Jesus. Now Judas will provide them with the opportunity to do so.
For three years Jesus has been gathering a community of disciples: teaching them about the kingdom of God, showing them the healing power of kingdom ways, and training them to share the mercy of God with others. But mostly he has entrusted them with the story of his life and ministry. Now Jesus is entrusting them with the story of his death and resurrection.
We have been called to be part of that community. We have been entrusted to tell that story, in this time, in this place. So today we tell it again, as we have in years past.
We tell it as the story of God’s power to make new creations out of folk like you and me. We tell it as the story of the power of God’s grace to form us into a community that carries God’s redeeming love into a hurting and broken world.
We pick up the story as Jesus eats a meal with his disciples. It is a Passover meal—a meal celebrating the time when Yahweh freed Hebrew slaves and entered into a covenant relationship with them. The guests include Jesus’ disciples and friends, but among them is a betrayer.
The Church has never been able to fully explain Judas. Was he a thief? Was he just plain greedy? Did he try to push Jesus into a confrontation with the Roman authorities? Was he a victim of forces beyond his control?
The problem for us is that Judas was “one of the Twelve.” He had been chosen by Jesus after Jesus had spent a night in prayer. He had been given apostolic authority to preach and to heal. He ate the last meal the disciples had with Jesus, participating in the making of Jesus’ new covenant.
All that—and he still betrayed Jesus.
Jesus knew Judas would betray him. Yet he still ate at the table with him. He still said, “You have no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you.”
This is a strange community Jesus is forming. It is a community where human failure is not hidden or swept under the carpet, but not excused either. It is a community where human failure, betrayal, and sin are overcome.
The power of sin to divide and destroy is defeated by the power of this Jesus who calls us “friends.”
Listen closely, for this is the story of our Passover—a passover from the bondage of broken dreams and self-centered living—a Passover into a new community shaped by the mercy and the grace of God.
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:1-23
(“Is it I?”)
Choral Response: “In the Upper Room,” Russell Nagy, Beckenhorst Press
This is a strange community Jesus is forming—an extraordinary community. After a meal of lavish giving and sacrifice, Jesus bestows upon his disciples the power to leave behind their selfish preoccupations and to join the community of God’s people who will carry God’s mercy into the world.
But the disciples haven’t a clue how to be in community with each other. What should have been a warm, intimate gathering quickly deteriorates into an argument characterized by mutual suspicion and jockeying for power.
For three years the disciples have watched and followed Jesus. For three years they have heard him tell about a topsy-turvy kingdom where the first shall be last and the last first; where the poor are royalty and those who are weak bring the greatest gifts; where children know more than adults about living in this kingdom; where you find your life by losing it in love and service.
Three years, and still the disciples don’t understand. They don’t get it. They are worse than confused—they are clueless! Yet, their ignorance and blindness doesn’t seem to disqualify them from being part of the community.
They frustrate Jesus, but he doesn’t throw them out. He doesn’t give them what they deserve. In fact, he promises them places of honor in the kingdom. He goes to prepare a banquet for them!
We watch. We learn that this new community isn’t built by the goodness of its members. It isn’t built by their careful plans and hard work. It is built by the prayer of Jesus for all who follow him.
We have a place within this community, but it’s not a place we’ve earned. We have a place within the community of Christ’s followers because God invites us in. When we accept the invitation, God gives us the amazing gift of community with God and God’s people. Now, as we listen to the stories of this community, we are being trained in the ways of God’s kingdom.
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:24-30 (“Who is the greatest?”)
Lavish, gracious God, you have welcomed us into the company of your people that we might learn to love one another, to delight in serving others, to find you in the least of our brothers and sisters.
We offer you our attempts to be a community of your love and we ask your redeeming presence among us.
Savior Lord, deliver us from all selfishness and self-seeking. Train us in the ways of Christ-like servanthood. Lead us deeper and deeper into your love for all people.
By your grace, form us into a community where strangers are welcomed in Christ’s name, sinners are forgiven for Christ’s sake, and salvation is found in your mercy and grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Song of Response: “There Is a Redeemer” CH 308, SNC 145, SWM 128, WR 117
Being part of this new community is not easy. The disciples of Jesus spend as much time stumbling and falling as they do following Jesus.
Jesus knows this. He has warned his followers: There is a high cost involved. There will be great challenges to face. There will be tough choices to make.
Sometimes the disciples are faithful. Sometimes they are not. All will be tested and all will falter. There are no superstars here.
In this story we see Jesus doing two things. He prays for his disciples—which means even the times of betrayal and denial are placed into God’s hands.
And even before the time of darkness he makes promises: Forgiveness is offered. Repentance is possible. Courage can be regained. And we can be a source of strength to others.
Even though this community will go through times of terrible testing, it will survive our betrayals and denials because it is grounded in the prayers and promises of Jesus.
In company with Jesus, we will learn language for describing honestly what’s wrong and what needs to be done. In our life together in his presence, we shall learn words like forgiveness, sin, repentance, redemption. As we lean into the promises of Jesus, we will experience the power to forgive one another, to gain new courage, to strengthen one another, to move beyond the wounds we inflict and the wounds we suffer.
In this community we learn that our failures do not define us. God’s grace does. Having received the mercy of God, we will become priests of mercy to a world dying to find it.
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:31-40 (“Who will deny?”)
Patient God, we offer to you our longings to be faithful and our weakness in doing so. Jesus, our High Priest, as you prayed for Peter and the other disciples, pray for us now, that in the time of testing we may be strong with your strength and may know ourselves held fast in the shelter of your heart.
Teach us to be honest with you and with each other. Develop in us the capacity to give and receive forgiveness. Show us how to strengthen one another and renew in each other the courage to walk in your way.
Surround us with your steadfast love and mercy that we may become more and more like you, whom we adore, and take our place in your kingdom of peace. Amen.
Song of Response: “My Song Is Love Unknown” TH 182
This is a strange community that Christ gathers to carry his mercy into the world, made up as it is of those who betray their Lord with a kiss; those who make a promise one day and retract it in the face of danger; those who are only too aware of how inadequate they are to be what God wants them to be.
The powers that would destroy this community are strong. At times it even appears that they have the upper hand: betrayal, denial, fear, cowardice, conflict, persecution, ridicule, rejection.
There are times when only the prayers of Jesus hold us fast in the strong grasp of God. But that is enough. Jesus has lived his life in prayer. Jesus has, through prayer, lived in the will of God. It is the will of God that he redeems us from the clutches of sin, whatever form it takes in our lives.
So when the powers of darkness grow strong, we stake our lives on Jesus’ prayers, and we live in hope.
This is a strange community that Christ gathers to carry his mercy into the world, made up as it is of those who are set free to love with a Christ-like love; those who are learning to live truthfully before God and each other; those who are discovering their true life as they join with all whom Christ invites to share his grace.
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:39-48 (“Could you not watch with me?”)
God eternal, we live surrounded and sustained by your grace: When we cannot keep faithful to you, you remain faithful to us. Even as our love falters and stumbles, your love endures. When we pull back in fear, you draw us forward into your kingdom. We know the price you pay to love us. Receive our grateful praise.
Hear our prayer,
our God, our glory.
Lead us forward to watch and pray with you. Keep us awake and alert to your truth, that we may not fall into temptation.
Hear our prayer,
our God, our glory.
Whatever trials and tests may come our way, be our strong shelter, for in your company we receive your saving grace.
Hear our prayer,
our God, our glory. Amen.
Sung Response: “Bitter Was the Night” SNT 101
“Healer of Our Every Ill” SNC 205, WR 630
Scripture Reading: Luke 23:32-56
Hymn: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321/324, PH 100/101, PsH 384, SFL 166,
TH 252, WR 261
[The congregation leaves in silence.]