We approached Good Friday worship with a station-based structure that would create space for individual response in a guided but open-ended and self-directed creative community environment. Good Friday inherently presents a unique worship service that allows a totally new experience without disrupting Sunday morning worship expectations. People were invited to participate anytime within a two-and-a-half-hour window. Varying arrival times let us introduce and orient people to the experience by grouping them together about every fifteen minutes to watch a short presentation about what we were doing and what they might expect. We set up seven stations that when done in order would guide people chronologically through the biblical accounts of the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion. However, we encouraged people to proceed as they wished, spending as much or as little time as needed at each station. Family participation was also encouraged. We placed individuals around the room to help people through the stations if needed; our pastors were also available to talk. Our congregation responded positively to having a new way of engaging their faith in a unique context that expanded their experience of church.
Gathering as Night Begins
Design: Welcome and Invitation to Worship
We start here, around a fire, mindful of Peter on the night of Christ’s crucifixion. He stood with strangers around a fire, longing to be with Christ but fearful of being identified and accused as a follower. We are gathered as friends and need not fear being known or accused as we enter into the story of a strange and unexpected night unlike any other.
[Set aside a room or sectioned-off area for people to gather around the fire. The fire pit or arrangement of candles is there to provide a welcoming visual, but also to bring people into the Good Friday story in which Peter is standing around the fire with strangers, wanting to be with Jesus but also wanting to be safely anonymous. Time around the fire might be used to welcome people to worship, to orient people to a station-based worship process, to invite and challenge people to engage in Good Friday, or to allow people to center themselves, change gears, and prepare themselves for worship.]
Materials: fire pit, sand, candles
The Emptying of Peter
Design: Our Individual Denial of or Submission to Christ
The cans on the table represent us in our humanity.
We can either be full of ourselves and not let Christ in, or we can see that sin leaves holes in us that only Jesus can fill.
The water represents life in Christ, sacrificially given in his tears and sorrow as he prayed, in the wine poured at the Last Supper, in the water he used to wash the disciples’ feet, and in his blood, shed for us.
The more we are able to recognize our own shortcomings and the abundance of grace in Jesus’ sacrifice, the easier it is to let Christ in our lives and to recognize how empty we are without him.
If we cannot accept our own iniquity, and if we reject the sacrificial gift Christ made of his life for us, we will build walls that leave us full of ourselves and keep Christ outside.
Materials: four jars full of water, a pitcher of water to refill jars as needed, three cans with an increasing number of holes punched in them, a can with no holes punched in it, four pieces of wire to use as can handles, a towel to place under the jars
Optional: Floating candles in additional jars of water
The disciples protested when Jesus said they would fall away that night and deny him. Peter, who had walked on water and was called a rock, protested the most, saying, “Even if I have to die with you I will never disown you.”
But he did deny Jesus—three times, with curses, until the rooster crowed. Then Jesus looked at Peter. And all the “wills” and “woulds” that Peter was so full of burst out in bitter tears.
Peter was left empty, now free to receive all that was being given.
—Based on Matthew 26–27 and Luke 22
Activity: Empty and Fill
Pick up can number 1. Notice the holes in it. Drop it into the jar of water.
Notice that it takes some time for the can to sink and be filled.
Repeat with cans 2 and 3.
Notice that the more holes a can has, the more easily it is filled. The more we recognize our own limitations, sins, and need for Christ, the easier it is for Christ to flow into our lives.
Pick up can number 4.
This can has no holes. It is self-contained. It is like Judas, full of pride, pushing Jesus away.
Suggestions for Reflection and Prayer
Read the Scripture again after doing the activity.
Pray that Christ will empty you of your own strength and fill you with his.
Pray for courage to accept your own weaknesses, and thank Jesus for accepting them.
Ask Jesus to show you where you need him.
Design: Our Communal Denial or Submission to Christ
Christ did not wash his hands of us. He fully gave himself to our problems. We have the freedom to deny or join Christ in giving himself to others through our hands. Tracing our own hands, writing our prayers and thoughts over them, and putting them on the wall with those of others gives us a way to reflect on how Christ’s work is visible in our communities.
Materials: 5.5” x 8.5” papers printed with the Scripture passages, pens, adhesive tape
Matthew 27:3–4, 22–24
There is suffering when plans and positions are given priority over people. We are dehumanized by those who use and discard us to suit their needs. Jesus did not wash his hands of us and leave us with our own problems. He took them wholly upon himself.
Use a pen to trace your own hand over the text.
Think and pray about the Scripture passages and reflection questions.
Write your prayer, or just a word or two, inside the hand outline.
Attach your paper to the wall with other people’s tracings.
Suggestions for Reflection and Prayer
Pray for insight to see the dynamics of authority and power in our own lives and the costs and benefits of the dynamics evident in our communities.
Pray about our interactions with authorities in our communities—religious, political, legal, corporate, financial, medical, media, commercial, educational, parental . . .
Pray for courage to look at people as individuals loved by God and not just as problems, or enemies, or inconveniences, or as a means to accomplishing a plan.
Design: Christ’s Denial and Submission for Us
Surrounding Jesus’ crown of thorns with images of crowns worn by kings and queens contrasts our expectations of royal authority and Jesus’ demonstration of it. Our own notions of power and sacrifice may start to look immature or self-interested.
Materials: crown of thorns, a pedestal to place the crown of thorns higher than the others (could be a simple box covered by a loose cloth), printed images of crowns made for royalty
Spend some time looking at the pictures of crowns that have been worn by European kings and queens throughout history. Notice their beautiful jewels, the silver and gold, the velvet and fur. Imagine the finest craftspeople working slowly and carefully to make a perfect crown. Imagine what it would be like to hold something that rare and valuable in your hands. What would it be like to meet a royal person with the authority to wear one of those crowns? How would you approach him or her? Would you be nervous? Intimidated? Respectful? Reverent?
Now look at the crown of thorns like the one made for Jesus, the king of all creation, ruler over heaven and earth for all eternity. See the sharp thorns. Imagine Roman soldiers ripping part of a thorny bush from the ground and hastily putting a crown together. Maybe they were cursing and accidentally poking themselves with the thorns while pressing the crown down on Jesus’ head.
Imagine the King of Kings silently submitting to being crowned by ignorant fools in a ceremony ordered by cruelty, hatred, and sin. Picture him responding with incomprehensible amounts of love and grace.
How might you approach Jesus the King, crowned in thorns, bleeding, beaten, and flogged? Would you want to look away? Would you be reverent? What would you want to say to a king that let himself be humiliated? Would it be easy to condemn, mock, or blame him? Would you be worried that your manners might not be fine enough for him?
Can you see the priceless value of the crown of thorns? Can you see Jesus transforming the ugliest crown with a beautiful sacrificial act? Can you see the strength, power, and love it takes to wear that crown?
The Darkness of the Cross
Design: Confession at the Cross
This is a time to confess your sin to someone who loves you and suffered immensely to be with you. The cross demonstrates that Jesus longs for you to be with him, to live life fully together in the salvation made possible in his death on the cross. Offer your honest confession to Christ while hammering a nail into the cross, and receive his grace.
Materials: a large wooden cross, nails (standard nails or rougher cut ones similar to what would have been used for Jesus), several hammers
Optional: a raised platform or table to set the cross on instead of the floor, an INRI sign on the cross
Spend a few moments sitting or kneeling before the cross, listening to the hammering and other sounds going on around you.
Consider the density of darkness and that covers our lives and immerses our world in pain, hurt, and brokenness. Think about Jesus breaking through that in his death.
Take some time to confess to Jesus the ways that sin has separated you from him or has taken hold in your life. Know that Jesus meets you in that darkness and guides you out.
When you’re ready, hammer a nail into the cross.
Design: Grief and Burial
Maybe there’s something in your life you’d like to let die and lay to rest with Jesus. Maybe you’ve been missing Jesus and want to mourn that separation.
Materials: a basket of stones, strips of linen, pens, a plate filled with water and myrrh
Pick up a stone and feel the lifeless weight of it.
Take a moment to grieve for Jesus and all he went through.
The stone represents death and sin. You can symbolically wrap it in cloth for burial.
Take a piece of cloth and dip it in the water and myrrh. Wrap the cloth around the stone.
Your sins do not have the final say about you. Jesus died for all sins.
Set down the stone and be free in the life Christ gives.
Through the Veil
Design: Christ’s Prayer for You
Materials: purple tulle, apparatus for hanging curtains (tension rods in a hallway, PVC piping, rods hung from ceiling, or a garden trellis, for example), each word of the phrase “I have made you known to them” cut out of paper, brads (or some other way to attach the words to the tulle), lighting (single LED light attached to the frame and shining down, or battery-powered strings of LED lights)
Note: This station could be done with just one curtain or with several. Amounts of materials will vary depending on how many curtains are used.
John 17: 25–26; 14:27
Before his trial and death, when he knew what was coming, Jesus prayed that through him, we would know and be loved by God.
In the darkness of his death, the temple veil was torn in two, revealing that Jesus’ sacrifice opened the way to life in the presence of God.
As you leave this time of worship, walk through the curtains knowing that there is hope in Jesus and all he’s done for us.