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It Is Over. It Begins.

A Good Friday Service

This service, entitled “It is Over. It Begins,” was billed as an art-filled evening of remembrance and hope. It included music, poetry, dance, and visual art arranged around the traditional Tenebrae structure centered on the seven sayings of Christ on the cross.

For each saying, we read the respective Scripture passage followed by a section of poetry from Michael Dennis Browne’s Seven Last Voices, which he wrote in response to The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross by Franz Josef Haydn. A few of these poems are included in this article, and you can find the rest of the poems online (with recordings of Browne reading them) at tinyurl.com/7lastvoices. Browne’s forthcoming book The Voices, in which these poems will appear, is scheduled for publication by Carnegie Mellon University Press in the fall of 2014.

Each poem was followed by a related song, most with a “folksy” feel and some written by people associated with our congregation.

The musicians for the evening included people who played guitar, banjo, upright bass, and drums, along with two vocalists.

One other interesting aspect of the service was the dance during the call to worship. The climax of the dance included the pouring of two pitchers of water into two clear jugs that appeared empty. Before the service began, we lined the bottom of the clear jugs with red food coloring, so when the clear water hit the bottom of the jugs it turned blood red—a very cool and meaningful effect.

During the time of confession, congregants were encouraged to write a sin or affliction on a transparent piece of paper and dip it into the blood-red water, washing it clean. (To get the “washing” effect, cut slips from overhead transparency sheets and use Expo Vis-à-vis® wet-erase markers. Experiment beforehand to make sure your markers wash off in water.)

Prelude

Song: “What Wondrous Love Is This?” LUYH 164, PH 85, PsH 379, TH 261, WR 257

Scripture: John 12:21-27, 30

Song: “Melt My Soul to Love” (Swain)

Poem: “Holy Sonnet XI” by John Donne

Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinn’d, and sinne’, and only He,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died.
But by my death can not be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews’ impiety.
They kill’d once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
O let me then His strange love still admire;
Kings pardon, but He bore our punishment;
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire,
But to supplant, and with gainful intent;
God clothed Himself in vile man’s flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

—E. K. Chambers, ed., Poems of John Donne: Vol. I (Lawrence & Bullen, 1896), p. 163

Prayer of Invocation

O Christ, who forsook no one
but was forsaken by the closest of friends,
and who committed no crime yet was sentenced to a criminal’s death,
we enter your presence in awe and adoration.
On this day, centuries ago, you could have saved your life,
but you refused to betray the purpose for which you had been born.
You had come into the world to love God and neighbor as yourself;
this was the love for which you had been created,
and when that love required you to shoulder a cross,
you summoned the strength to bear it.
Today, O Christ, as we sing and pray about the cross,
teach us its meaning once again
and help us to take up our cross and follow you. Amen.

—from Litanies and Other Prayers: For the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A.
Phyllis Cole and Everett Tilson. © 1989, 1992, Abingdon Press, p. 70, alt.
Adapted by permission.

The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross

I. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Scripture: Luke 23:32-38

Poem: “House” by Michael Dennis Browne
(Used by permission. Text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords.)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Pater, dimitte illis; non enim sciunt quid faciunt.”

You are descending stairs—
    down and down and down.
Slowly, as in a dream.
    You have never wanted to go this deep,
but the House of Forgiveness is large.

As if you were among the roots of oaks.
    Up there, storms;
you know the branches grind and shriek,
    but here no groaning, only this quietness,
as of whales asleep.

Is this down here the dream?
    Or is it up there, where you do
things as wild as, wilder than,
    those plunging branches?

All hates, little and large, that you hold,
    let those winds sweep them from you,
send them as leaves down the street,
    let these deeps murmur to you,
wary of them as you were
    (and now their salt
washing your wounds clean).

Forgiveness—has she lived here all along?
    Out of her blood once you came,
and so soon you hissed away from her,
    from whose body you began by drinking
before you learned any words
    to distance yourself from her.

And why such a stranger here?
    Why have you lived away?
Why only a guest in these rooms?
    Descending now, breathing this darker air,
what is to be done
    other than watch and listen
out of the heart she gave you?

Now windows are being opened,
you feel it everywhere,
and what is this fragrance
    all through the air?
It is forgiveness.
    Forgiveness and her flowers.

Song: “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”
(traditional spiritual) PH 95, WR 280

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

II. “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

Scripture: Luke 23:39-43

Poem: “Thief” by Michael Dennis Browne
(Used by permission. Text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords.)

“This day you will be with me in paradise”
“Hodie mecum eris in paradiso.”

At least they did not cut off my hands
    and leave me helpless.
At least they have only killed me,

Where you go, now I go.
    You said: come with me,
you shall be with me.
    You said: I know the paths.
So: I will follow you.

All I know is that we die
    here together.
All I can do is trust you,
    tied as I am beside you.

Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side,
    Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
    For I have sinn’d, and sinne’, and only He,
    Who could do no iniquity, hath died.

—John Donne

My own crimes, I know.
    Too many, too often.
What was yours?
    Was there the one only?
A large one?
    (They seem to have made
larger wounds in you.)

At dawn light this morning—
    it was so cold, remember?—
I did not know that now
    I would be walking these paths with you.

Are we near water?
    I think I see boats,
hear what sounds like ropes,
    slapping against masts
within a harbor.

This going with you,
    I already love.

As a boy,
    I never knew the names of trees,
but these are cedars.

Song: “Allegiance/Mercy” (Gay)

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

III. “Woman, behold, your son!”

Scripture: John 19:23-17

Poem: “Mother” by Michael Dennis Browne (Used by permission. Text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords.)

“Woman, behold your son.”
“Mulier, ecce filius tuus.”

I thought I had my son in this life.
    And now, you give me another.

When did you ever not surprise me?
    It was not always an amazement
I would have chosen,
    but each time, like a dream, it was there
and I belonged to it.

Do I hold this one to my heart?
    Is that what I must do?

As if forgiveness were not already enough,
    already so much,
now this?

Was there ever a time you did not ask of me
    more than I thought I could do?
I have never dreamed myself as large
as you presume me to be.
Really, there are only so many rooms.

You never let me live my only life;
    you never did.
But in all you have asked of me,
    I did not fail you and I will not now,
even now, though this is hardest,
    here in this place where you suffer so.

When I said yes—so long ago—
    to be your mother—
I was young, young—
    how could I have known
what this would ask of me?
    And could this be the last asking,
as you die before me?

I hardly think so.

I never knew how much
    could break in me,
and still be green.

And now you say, my son:
    Behold your son.
You cannot ask it, and you do.

Here I am.

Song
“Jesus Meets His Mother” (Words: anon. Music: Bruce Benedict. Lead sheets available at www.newyorkhymns.com)
“Told of God’s Favor” LUYH 68
“My Times Are in Your Hand” LUYH 458

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

IV. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Scripture: Matthew 27:45-50

Poem: “Tsunami” by Michael Dennis Browne (text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords)

Song: “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done?” (Wesley)

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

V. “I thirst.”

Scripture: John 19:28-29

Poem: “Line” by Michael Dennis Browne (text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords)

Song:
“Thirst Quenched by Thirst” (Nick Engbers)
“Como el ciervo/Like a Deer” LUYH 504

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

VI. “It is finished.”

Scripture: John 19:30

Poem: “Over” by Michael Dennis Browne (text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords)

Song: “It Is Finished” (Gaither)

Extinguishing of a Candle

Silence

Time of Confession

(At this time, congregants are encouraged to come forward and write an affliction, addiction, burden, or sin on a transparent sheet of paper, dip it in water, and reflect on the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.)

VII. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Scripture: Luke 23:44-49

Poem: “Pantokrator” by Michael Dennis Browne (text and recording online at tinyurl.com/7lastwords)

Song: “Where You There?” LUYH 166, PH 102, PsH 377, TH 260, WR 283

Extinguishing of the Final Candle

The congregation is invited to sit silently in the darkness until the candle is relit and carried out of the sanctuary. Then, when they desire, they may leave the sanctuary silently, reflecting on all they have seen and heard and on the wonder of Christ’s death.