I almost didn’t go to the midday service at nearby Luther Place Memorial Church (ELCA) but I’m glad I did. My liturgical experiences at this church have been hit-and-miss in years past, but the church conducted worship well and I wanted to comment on what made it successful.
- The music was very good. In particular, the vested choir sat with the congregation for the three hymns, only taking their stalls for the final anthem. This filled in the congregational voices. Not there wasn’t a good turnout (there was) but I’ve found Good Friday hymns to be more emotional than most; indeed, I wept and my voice cracked during “Ah, holy Jesus.” (The other two were “There is a green hill far away” and “Jesus, I will ponder thee” which I hadn’t before sung and which successfully escaped the mawkish excesses that Good Friday can all-too-easily develop.)
- The readers were better than most I’ve ever heard. One of the pastors — the preacher; sorry, but I don’t have his name as the clergy weren’t differentiated in the order of worship — read the Passion Gospel (John 18:1-19:42) which is one of the longest lessons you’re likely to hear in any church at any time. Breaking it up into three parts might be a help, with music between. But I suggest it not for the sake of easily distracted congregations, but for the reader. It is an emotionally draining passage; the reader wept and choked. I did too.
- But I really mention the Passion Gospel because the reader-pastor made an important and legitimate alteration to the text. It is hard to really get into the story when you get a dose of the-Jews-the-Jews-the-Jews. Sensitive Christians have been troubled about this for quite some time, but I confess I hadn’t come up with as elegant solution as I heard today. (And indeed, it was featured in the sermon.) For Jew (religious identity), he said Judean (political identity). It isn’t a euphemism: Jesus was convicted of sedition for claiming (not to play Pilate) the “Rex Judaeorum” and Judean is already used a toponomic adjective.
There’s enough of a verbal distance to help Christians hear the story without getting coopted into the long history of anti-Jewish violence by Christians, or God forbid, extending it. There’s something to be said by what Jewish friends and family would make of the Passion Gospel. (Indeed, this is the reason I name the congregation, so as to attribute this good practice.)
- Polite usher, nicely printed order of service with full music.
Problems? Well, they a modern version of the Lord’s prayer that annoys me because I can’t say it from memory. But they did have it printed out. (Which is good.)
All in all, a successful observance of Good Friday.