Tag Archives: Good Friday

Good Friday has Arrived

For many Christians, Lent has been a lengthy time of reflection as the season of Lent annually provides. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I visited Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for their 11 a.m. contemporary service.  The service, which I’ll recount in a future article, was attended by warm greetings, beautiful music, and inspiring preaching. Although there was not palm waving, there were palms. For me, it ushered in Holy Week beautifully.

Good Friday is a solemn day for many Christians, in that it commemorates the death of Jesus. Many churches will be conducting Good Friday services, traditionally at noon, but often in the late afternoon or early evening to accommodate workers.

I’ll be attending Good Friday services at First Christian Church of Anchorage (Disciples of Christ). They’ve asked me to present my versions of two older hymns but set to new music. Their service commences at 6 p.m. if you have no church option. This is a warm and friendly church. I enjoy their fellowship.

Blessings to you as this important weekend begins.

A variety of Eastertide expressions of faith

As I visit churches, readers frequently ask me, “What church do you belong to?” This seemingly innocent question is a tell for other questions possibly lurking beneath the surface. One might be probing my religious roots, or looking for leanings toward a particular strain of theology. Quite often I respond that when I leave home on Sunday mornings, I feel God is steering me toward a particular place of worship. Unless I’m attending an event of particular significance, I want to experience the fullness of faith: the warmth of hospitality, being with others in corporate worship, lifting my voice in praise and listening to the Bible being opened in new ways that inspire and urge me to share the good news of salvation.

On major holidays, like Easter and Christmas, I enjoy the act of worship for itself, not merely as a writing assignment for this column. At times I feel a bit selfish when I do this, but I too need to hear truly fulfilling messages from time to time, in environments where I’ve been spiritually nourished in the past. As such, today’s column briefly describes several experiences I had starting with last Thursday, and ending Easter Sunday.

Seder: Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church

Last Thursday, I experienced Seder at Christ Our Savior Lutheran. In recent years, I’ve joined this fun congregation in their celebration of the Passover celebration observed by Jews worldwide. Seder commemorates the Exodus, when Jews were liberated from bondage in Egypt. Typically the service follows a prescribed format with readings, specific activities and a ritualized meal with special wine to be drunk at intervals.

Some question why Christians celebrate a Jewish tradition. Many Christian scholars believe Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples actually was the Passover meal. Last week, Christianity Today featured an interview (http://tinyurl.com/gs2k3mz) with Rabbi Evan Moffic, one of the youngest rabbis in Reform Judaism. Asked about Christians celebrating Seder, Moffic said, “The Exodus story is part of the Hebrew Bible, which is part of the Christian Bible. The Exodus story is part of the Christian story. Sometimes we learn about another religion through practicing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a Passover Seder. You get a much deeper sense of what Passover means if you participate in a Seder rather than just lecturing about it.” This Seder, a tradition at Christ Our Savior since 1998, was pastor Dan Bollerud’s last there; he retires this fall.

Good Friday: Amazing Grace Lutheran Church

I enjoy worshipping here as this congregation seems to continually reinvent itself in worship. A rough-hewn altar had been disassembled. It was arranged in groupings of two timbers each, in a circle of seven stations in the middle of the sanctuary. The congregation split into seven groups, followed leaders with crosses to position themselves behind each timber grouping, which also contained a row of seven lit candles. A leader then recited a reading, after which a hymn was sung by all while a group member, usually a child, blew out a candle at each station. Each group then moved one station to the left for the next reading and song. By the conclusion, all candles had been extinguished and each participant left in silence to return home. I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a more heartfelt service on Good Friday. Thanks to pastor Adam Barnhart for his leadership in new experiences.

Easter morning, 10 a.m.: Baxter Road Bible Church

I enjoy the vigor of this relatively young and rapidly expanding east side church. Led by senior pastor Bob Mather and his associate John Carpenter, they are a model of successful church growth. After a vigorous musical service, pastor Bob greeted all with, “He is risen indeed!” They served Communion early in the service in an inviting manner, following biblical wording, with the elements explained and taken together. This is how Communion is most meaningful but often ignored in many churches. Carpenter’s sermon was based on Luke 24, but focused on the events after the resurrection. You can hear it at baxterroad.org/sermon.html.

Easter morning, 11:30 a.m.: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

St. Mary’s 11:30 a.m. service features a folk/bluegrass music format. It’s upbeat and seems to please to a wide cross-section of St. Mary’s attendees. On Easter morning I more than ready for a musical uplift. From “Good Morning, This is the Day” to the recessional, this service was one of total joy. It began with the children entering the sanctuary, each with flowers in hand, to insert them in a cross in front of the altar. The altar was accentuated by a bank of Easter lilies, each donated by members in special recognition of family members and friends, a beautiful tradition.

Rector Michael Burke set the tone for the service by proclaiming, “He is risen!” The gradual hymn was “Morning Has Broken” and seemed so appropriate for Easter Sunday. The gospel reading was from John 20, the Johanine account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, telling the disciples it was empty, the disciples returning home, and Jesus’ revealing himself to Mary — a stirring account indeed.

At St. Mary’s, the Eucharist is called The Great Thanksgiving. Burke always patiently explained the meaning and importance of the Eucharistic service, that it is God’s gift to us, open to all. Somehow this morning it seemed truer than ever. Although I’m not an Episcopalian, I’m in solidarity with the love they show for each other and their strong expressions of faith in God. It’s always a treat to visit this warm, welcoming church but Easter Sunday seemed more so.

Each church mentioned has something special to offer to those seeking an unusual experience. Eastertide this year was very special to me. And yes, that nicely iced Champagne mentioned last week was a special toast to the meaning of this extraordinary day.

Don’t miss this!

April 1 starts Defy Fear Week, a week of events structured around the documentary “Defiant Requiem,” a film about Jewish prisoners in World War II who use music as a weapon of resistance, and which culminates in two performances by the Anchorage Concert Chorus of “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” on April 8 and 10 in the Atwood Concert Hall.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Dear Mary…Guest Blog

Edward Fudge, noted author, blogger, scholar, and theologian has kindly allowed me to share yesterday’s guest post in his Good Friday Blog. This is awesome!

The following guest article is by Shawn Rhem Sieve, a wife, mother, Jesus-follower, and exceptional writer, who grew up in my home church. This powerful piece is reprinted with deep appreciation from her blog at http://titlesarerestrictive.blogspot.com/2013/03/dear-mary.html . .

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dear Mary,

Some of the kids at church asked me why we Presbyterians don’t talk about you much. I told them what a pastor once told me, that it’s just not “our style.” The kids wanted a better response than that. They wanted to know why their Catholic friends revere you so much, when the best shout-out you get from us is a 5th-grader representing you in the Christmas pageant. I explained the doctrine of immaculate conception, that our Catholic friends believe you were conceived without sin, which makes you extra special in their eyes. I told them about the itchy blazer I had to wear to mass in Catholic high school. Your feast day is my birthday, which meant four years of wearing the dreaded blazer on my birthday. Consequently, I think of you at each of my birthdays. I think of you at other times, too. Like today.

It’s Holy Week. Again. Already. It comes faster each year. Wasn’t it just yesterday that my sons were little enough to let their grandmother dress them in fussy sailor suits at Easter? Now, they grumble over having to wear shirts with collars. It seems as if I’ll blink, and they’ll be fathers themselves. Maybe. I always imagine they’ll be old enough one day to plan my funeral with minimal grief–they’ll be relieved that the old lady is finally moving on. You never know, though. Some mothers aren’t so lucky. Some mothers plan their sons’ funerals.

I wanted to tell you how much I love your song, the Magnificat. I’m glad you felt that kind of joy when you learned your role in this story. It’s hard to picture, when you didn’t even ask for that pregnancy. My children were planned, desired before their conception; they arrived when we were ready for them. Even so, when I learned for sure that the first one was on his way, I cried–not from joy, but a kind of loss. I knew that I’d ever after feel vulnerable, that my child’s sorrows would matter more to me than my own sorrows. I wasn’t wrong. It’s really like that.

My boys were lost once, like yours was. They were very young, too small to be given freedom to leave the yard without me. When I realized they were missing–they’d been playing just outside the window and suddenly I couldn’t find them anywhere–I called the police. The boys had gone down the street and into a neighbor’s house. When I found them, I was angry. So relieved they were safe and shaking with that relief, but also angry.

You must have been proud of your son’s work, of the things he made (whether or not he had real talent). When he left that work behind to travel and teach, you must have been anxious, even though you believed in what he was doing. As the authorities increasingly viewed him as seditious, you probably grew increasingly afraid. And then he was arrested, unfairly. The injustice is enough to send a mother over the edge, but even worse–he came so close to being released. He had more than a fifty-fifty chance. Who would have imagined the crowd would call for his death over a murderer’s? I bet you thought the world had gone insane. And if you heard the crowd demanding his execution, saw the pack’s blood thirst gaining momentum, how could you bear their malice?

When I was younger, I used to think about that Friday and how you stood close by. He’d been beaten, stripped, laughed at. Tortured. It lasted a long time, but you stood there. I used to think, “I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t watch my child suffer like that.” Now I understand. You couldn’t leave. You wanted to take his pain away, would have taken it on yourself in order to stop him from feeling it. But you couldn’t. So you stayed, hoping he would find some comfort in your presence, wanting him to know you were near. No one bothered to write it down, but I picture you getting as close to him as you were allowed, touching him–if only his feet–when you could. That’s where I’d have been, if I were you. And if the soldiers pushed me away, I’d probably scream, “I’m here! I’m still here!” and I’d be hoping he could hear my voice above all the other noise.

You would have wanted him to die quickly. You probably prayed that it would go faster; you must have willed your son to stop breathing already, so it can be over. When he died, I wonder how long you felt relieved before a different kind of pain started, the pain of a bereaved mother. Just a few seconds?

When he came back and made all those visits, I think you saw him. I bet he loved you a lot and understood that you needed to see him again, if only for a minute. No one bothered to write that down either, but I’m sure it happened. I hope when you did see him, that moment erased all the pain of those previous days. You probably hugged him very hard and then said, “Go — see your friends! Don’t worry about me!”

The kids at church asked what that special prayer is about you. Even though it’s “not our style,” I happen to know the “Hail Mary.” I recited it for them. “Blessed among women” . . . I sure wouldn’t have wanted to walk in your shoes. He would have needed a very special mother, someone with sharp wits who loved large. While I’m thinking about you, I wanted to say thank you for taking care of him all those years. Thank you for letting him go so that he could be ours rather than yours alone. Thank you, Mary, full of grace.

Peace,
from a Protestant admirer

Good Friday Services & Art Show: ChangePoint

Yesterday I did something out of the ordinary for Good Friday. I attended what may be considered a contemporary style service at ChangePoint, a non-liturgical church.

However, before the service, an art show under the theme “Redeemed” was held in their commons area. The art show was a first for me in my Anchorage church visits. More churches should offer this form of religious expression. Most of the pieces on display were by women artists, an oddity to me. Very few men were on display, and the one key male artist was busily selling his art at this showing. From what I saw, he was alone in his commercialism. Many artistic expressions were photographs of non-religious themes. Although the art was good in many cases, I was disappointed that the Good Friday “Redeemed” theme, the locus of show, was almost totally lacking. I was told ChangePoint had about 100 artists among its members.

Several pieces caught my eye and I captured them with my iPhone camera. Shown above and below, I apologize for the quality of the images, but these artists were crisp in their dedication to the theme of the show.

Before the 8 p.m. service a poet standing off to the side of the art show, recited, slam style, an inspiring poem.

Slated for an 8 p.m. start, the service started late as many people were late arriving. It’s interesting that attendees to church services figure they can always arrive later than the announced starting time, holding up the start of the service for those who planned ahead. Pastors encourage this behavior by waiting until all are there and in their seats. Try that with a train or airline. Doesn’t work at all. I had the same thing happen at the last church I attended.

For one of the holiest and solemn church days of the year, the disrespectful din from the audience was disconcerting. I measured 80-85 db before the service with the peak decibels at 106. I’ve attended concerts at the PAC where 85 db was the normal concert sound level. Many other churches in Anchorage have extreme reverence on Good Friday with scarcely a sound to disturb the decibel meter. A church can set and manage expectations for noise during services. Normally Good Friday services begin and end with worshipers arriving and departing in silence, and in darkness.

The service started with three popular contemporary Christian anthems played and nicely sung by seated guitarists. Oddly enough, people were told to stand immediately when the singing started except the guitarist/singers remained seated. The tone would have been more reverent if people were not told to stand. This is a conditioned reflex in so many churches that do not consider the true role of music in worship.

The songs sung:
—When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
—How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
—Amazing Love

The commons where the service was held was darkened but not dark, with candles aglow in the front. I’d estimate the crowd to be 300-350, a tiny fraction of ChangePoint’s members. This is merely an observation, not a criticism. Many Anchorage churches attract only a small fraction of their members on Good Friday, one of the major Christian observances.

Teaching Pastor Dan Jarrell then proceeded with a brief sermon capped with a request to take a moment to consider the consequences of sin most grievous to one, to reflect on the cross, and its meaning, recording those thoughts on provided 3 x 5 cards. He encouraged individuals to share those thoughts. A nurse, alcoholic, college professor, middle school student, preschool teacher, soldier, and businessman briefly shared their thoughts. They were all good and brought me back to “testimonies” given in church back in my youth. People are rarely encouraged to share their faith in church anymore, and I applaud Jarrell for doing this.

The service ended with communion distributed from the front of the room.

I considered this an important service for a church wrestling with unaccustomed liturgical forms. The noise, and informality, however, distracted me from the true purposes of Good Friday.

Good Friday 2013 is Here

Another Good Friday, and worshipers are planning to attend the churches of their choice sometime today. This day observes the capture, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. For most of our city this day will be the same as any other.

The houses of entertainment will be jammed with throngs of pleasure seekers while a small fraction of Christians in our city will take time to stop, think, and reflect on the meaning of the finished work of Jesus. In my lifetime, I can recall Good Friday as a day primarily reserved for work, and religious observances, but not for entertainment. I realize our multicultural society, with its variety of beliefs and insatiable desires for entertainment, no longer supports a more religious tone for this and other Christian holidays.

Yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News’ center section was devoted to listings of various church observances and times posted for Good Friday and Easter services. I’ll be out worshiping God this evening, reflecting on the meaning of this day. A Google search using the terms good friday services anchorage 2013 showed many individual church service listings on the critical first three pages*. You can also add a specific religion to the search, or even the name of a church to obtain a closer match.

Have a blessed Good Friday!

*If a church is not shown on the first three pages, a searcher will not likely go further for a result. Churches doing a poor job of maintaining effective websites will generally not show on the first three pages. Often this is due to their websites being created and maintained by well-meaning members or volunteers. Ineffective websites will have a direct impact on a church’s ability to attract new members, and retain existing ones.

Good Friday and Easter – A Reflection

This year I attended Good Friday services and Easter services at two different churches. The churches are not identified this year due to the nature of my remarks. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are important, introspective times of the liturgical year. They can be times of intense reflection and deep emotion as one considers the impact of the commemorated events.

The lack of attendees at both Good Friday services surprised me as I was attending several of the larger local churches. Only a small fraction of both church’s memberships were in attendance. I understand some families have small children and are reluctant to attend for their sake. But, there were children evident in both of the services I attended. A blogger I follow, Rev. Ken Collins, wrote the following in his blog.

“I observe that in just about any church you choose, the Easter Sunday service is full to the brim with people who at least in some symbolic way are willing to shout hosanna to the King and lay palm branches down in His path. The Good Friday service, like the crucifixion it commemorates, is poorly attended if it is held at all.

Personally, I feel the Good Friday service is an excellent way to connect with the price paid for our redemption. This year, in both services, I felt the impact of the crucifixion in a way I never have before. It was a time that touched my heart and mind. One of the services was extremely dark with a minimum of music, three songs I believe, and scripture reading by the pastors. The lights were gradually extinguished at the end along with the candles we lit upon entering. Both services were excellent and provided a suitable backdrop for Christian reflection.

Easter Services at both churches were joyful, full of music, good cheer, and Christian love. Both were colorful, but possibly lacking the unrestrained joy to which Bishop N.T. Wright refers in the passage I quoted in my April 5 post on this blog. I believe Good Friday observance, like other religious observances, is possibly a reflection of a gradual drift from religiosity to “spirituality”.

A recent USA TODAY article commented on this phenomenom, based on a survey of “Millennials” (18-29 yr olds).

The article noted “Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

Recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey research also bears this out, not only for the Millennial’s but for other age groups. Both surveys reflect a stark contrast to the explosion of Christianity in the global south.

Although I found extreme meaning in Holy Week and Easter services, others are not finding this meaning because they are drifting away. Some of the reasons this is happening are continually documented in this blog and some are due to deeper issues space does not permit us to explore at the moment. Nonetheless, this should be cause for concern by Christians in Alaska, and a challenge meriting attention.”

Good Friday and Easter Services: A Two Church Perspective

Normally I don’t focus on new church visits during major religious holidays as many present special programs atypical of week-to-week routines. Also, they’re flooded by throngs of once or twice-a-year attendees. Instead, at the conclusion of Holy Week, I attended Good Friday and Easter services at two churches which consistently show they are visitor-friendly. This blog post is intended to give a flavor of those services.

Good Friday
[img_assist|nid=140555|title=Golgotha|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=125|height=62]Trinity Presbyterian – Dark and Mysterious
Held in a side-chapel, this service in a darkened room began with each worshiper receiving a small candle upon entering. This candle was then lit and placed on one of two round tables with a single taller candle in the front of the chapel. The short services consisted of scripture readings (Mark 14-15), silent reflection, and prayer, punctuated by two songs: “Were You There?” and “Love is Here”. When the last reading indicating Jesus’ death was completed, the room was plunged into total darkness. Exiting in silence, we remained silent until out of the church. An impactual service, I felt the cold truth of the crucifixion as never before.

St. John United Methodist – Light to Dark
Hosted in the main sanctuary, this service followed the traditional Tenebrae Service [6th century] pattern of moving from light to darkness. A formal service consisting of 27 parts with unison readings, beautiful choral anthems with piano, string quartet and solo cello, hymns, scripture readings, and a brief homily by Pastor Dave Beckett. Altar items, cross, candles, etc., were gradually removed during the service, culminating with the draping of the altar in black. Ultimately the church was plunged into darkness. And in that darkness we sang Twila Paris’ beautiful contemporary hymn Lamb of God which brought tears to my eyes and those of others around me.

Lamb of God
(verse 3) I was so lost, I should have died, but you have brought me to your side, to be led by your staff and rod, and to be called a Lamb of God.
(chorus) O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God, I love the holy Lamb of God! O wash me in His precious blood, my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

A most unique and moving experience, I was amazed the church was only half full, considering St. John is one of the largest Methodist churches in the Pacific Northwest.

Easter Sunday
[img_assist|nid=140556|title=Empty Tomb|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=100]St. John United Methodist – Bright and Joyous
Dodging snowshowers, worshipers in their Easter finery streamed into St. John to celebrate the resurrection. Overflowing services offered worshipers a feast of music accentuated by organ, piano, choir, and brass quartet. During the children’s time, shrieks of delight were heard when Pastor Dave Beckett pulled a rabbit out of a seemingly empty box, alluding to the empty tomb. Although the order of service was traditional Methodist, it was highlighted by Pastor Beckett’s upbeat Easter sermon, entitled “Happy News” which can be found here. This service ended on a high note with happy worshipers leaving St. John with hearts full.

Trinity Presbyterian – Warmly Celebrating
Warmly greeted by many of Trinity’s awesome welcoming team, I entered a church blazing with light and accentuated with countless baskets of tulips. The service started with a marvelous video, composed of black and white animation, depicting Jesus’ last days, death, burial and finally the resurrection, and accompanied by members of the band with an evocative oboe solo titled ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. I still can’t shake the images from my mind. The praise band music, a blend of traditional and contemporary, was beautiful, appropriately setting the tone for the service.

Pastor Letts uses guided prayer to assist worshipers out of prayer ruts, suggesting ways to approach God. The pastoral message, “There’s a Place for Us”, used Lett’s inclusive style of inviting other members to share thoughts or readings. Lett’s use of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was intriguing in that his selfless behavior earned him death at the hand of the Nazis, for speaking out against crimes against humanity, in the closing days of WWII in Germany. Better yet, why not listen to Lett’s Easter remarks here? The final song, ‘Who Paints the Sky’, a danceable toe-tapper, ended the service on a high note with the choir boogying out, tambourines in hand. The bell choir played music in the lobby as worshipers exited. A wonderful service, filled with happy memories.