And There Was Darkness: A solemn service for Good Friday

This service is becoming a Good Friday tradition at Grace Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a relatively new congregation in Madison, Alabama. The service is entirely spoken; there is no music at all. The people gather in silence, entering a church that has been stripped of all movable ornamentation at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service. Lighting is subdued, but adequate for the people to participate in Scripture readings, litanies, and prayers. As the service ends, all lighting that is not essential to exiting the sanctuary safely is extinguished, so that the service ends in semi-darkness.

The four primary elements are the opening Litany for Good Friday, which sets the tone of the service; the Scripture lessons, which are those assigned to Good Friday in the Revised Common Lectionary; the Solemn Reproaches of the Cross; and the closing reading from the gospel of Luke, which juxtaposes parallel portions of the Nativity and Passion narratives. Interposed between these elements are times of silence, which are a significant part of the service and should be long enough to create a mood of reflection and introspection. No part of the service should feel rushed.


The People Gather in Silence

[The church was stripped of ornamentation on Maundy Thursday; lighting is subdued for this seivice.]

Call to Worship (Selected from Isaiah 53) 1

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Surely, he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,

And with his stripes we are healed.

[A moment of silence is kept.]

Litany for Good Friday 2

O Crucified Jesus,
Son of the Father,
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
eternal Word of God,

we worship you.

O crucified Jesus, holy temple of God,
dwelling place of the Most High,
gate of heaven, burning flame of love,

we worship you.

O crucified Jesus,
sanctuary of justice and love,
full of kindness, source of faithfulness,

we worship you.

O crucified Jesus, ruler of every heart,
in you are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,
in you dwells all the fullness of the Godhead,

we worship you.

Jesus, Lamb of God,

have mercy on us.

Jesus, bearer of our sins,

have mercy on us.

Jesus, redeemer of the world,

grant us peace.

[After a brief silence, the leader concludes the litany.]

Almighty God, look with mercy on your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed

and to be given over to the hands of sinners
and to suffer death on the cross;
who now lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.


FirstLesson: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

[A time of silence is kept, followed by the congregation praying The Lord's Prayer in unison.]

Solemn Reproaches of the Cross 3

O my people, O my church,
What have I done to you,
or in what have I offended you?
Answer me.

I led you forth from the land of Egypt
and delivered you by the waters of baptism,
but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I led you through the desert forty years
and fed you with manna:
I brought you through tribulation and penitence
and gave you my body, the bread of heaven,
but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

What more could I have done for you
that I have not done?
I planted you, my chosen and fairest vineyard,
I made you branches of my vine;
but when I was thirsty, you gave me vinegar to drink
and pierced with a spear the side of your Savior,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I went before you in a pillar of cloud,
and you have led me to the judgment hall of Pilate.
I scourged your enemies and brought you to a land of freedom,
but you have scourged, mocked, and beaten me.
I gave you the water of salvation from the rock,
but you have given me gall and left me to thirst,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I gave you a royal scepter
and bestowed the keys of the kingdom,
but you have given me a crown of thorns.
I raised you on high with great power,
but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

My peace I gave, which the world cannot give,
and washed your feet as a sign of my love,
but you draw the sword to strike in my name
and seek high places in my kingdom.
I offered you my body and blood,
but you scatter and deny and abandon me, a
nd you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I sent the Spirit of truth to guide you,
and you close your hearts to the Counselor.
I pray that all may be one in the Father and me,
but you continue to quarrel and divide.
I call you to go and bring forth fruit,
but you cast lots for my clothing,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel,
and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder.
I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants,
but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

I came to you as the least of your brothers and sisters;
I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not clothe me,
sick and in prison and you did not visit me,
and you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

Lord, have mercy.

[A time of silence is kept.]

A Reading from the gospel of Luke 4

Reader One: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Reader Two: Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. I will therefore chastise him and release him.

One: And all went to be enrolled to their own cities. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Two: But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. He released Barabbas, the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, who they asked for, but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

One: And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.

Two: And when they came to the place which is called the skull, there they crucified him and two criminals—one on the right and one on the left.

And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

One: And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths....

Two: And they cast lots to divide his garments.

One:... and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night.

Two: And the people stood by watching.

One: And an angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were filled with fear! But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Two: But the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his chosen One!"

One: And this will be a sign for you....

Two: While the sun's light failed, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!"

One: You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths....

Two: Then Joseph of Arimathea took down the body of Jesus and wrapped it in a linen shroud....

One:... and lying in a manger.

Two:... and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb.

[Pause, as the tellers switch stories.]

Two: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased."

One: The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid, and returned and prepared spices and ointments.

Two: When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened that the Lord has made known to us!"

One: And on the first day of the week at early dawn they went to the tomb.

Two: And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

One: And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body.

Two: And when the shepherds saw the babe lying in the manger, they made known the saying which had been told them concerning the child.

One: While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how they told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise."

Two: And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds had told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

One: And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to the rest.

Two: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.

One: But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 5

One: The gospel of the Lord.

Two: Praise be to Christ.

The People Depart in Silence

[This service continues on Easter morning.]


1 All Scripture readings are from the Revised Standard Version, unless noted otherwise.

2 Praise God: Common Prayer at Taize, ©1975 by Les Presses de Taize. Published by Oxford University Press, 1977. Altered, as published in Book of Common Worship, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

3 The Roman Missal: The Sacramentary, ©1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc.; as altered in the Book of Common Worship, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

4 This narrative of the Nativity and Easter story from the gospel of Luke was edited into this form by Dennis Dewey and first presented as part of the concluding worship at the Network of Biblical Storytellers 1995 Gathering at Duke University. It was transcribed from audiotape by Richard Pemble, Archdeacon of Chicago, and widely distributed via the Internet.

5 As these words are spoken, all lights not necessary for exiting the sanctuary safely are extinguished.

John C. Bush is interim pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama.


Reformed Worship 42 © December 1996, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.