Good Friday: What Wondrous Love is This? | When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Good Friday: What Wondrous Love is This? | When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Liturgy Lessons: March 30, 2018 – Good Friday (Tenebrae)

The liturgy for Good Friday is designed as a dramatic retelling of the Passion of Christ. It is anchored in the passion narratives from Matthew 26 and 27, and includes music, poetry, prayer, and song as responses to each section of scripture. In its aim to enact a remembrance of those final hours, the service employs some artistic and theatrical elements. Together we experience the encroaching darkness of the hour as the lights get progressively dimmer throughout the service. We hear the chapters read, and respond with music, poetry, and prayer. We hear the dying human heartbeat of Jesus as the Christ candle is removed from the room. We then feel the cataclysmic earthquake as all creation cried out. For about ten minutes toward the end of the service we sit in complete darkness (with only the cross illuminated), to meditate on the weight and wonder of Christ’s sacrificial death. The Christ candle is then brought back in as we anticipate the resurrection. This is also a sign of Christ’s victory, for the body may be killed, but the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”

There is power in story. The Passion of Christ is the greatest story of all. It demands of us beautiful and true expressions of sorrow and gratitude. This Good Friday liturgy is full of sensory elements, not for mere aesthetics or artistic display, but to move us to adoration and awe. We don’t simply want to acknowledge the truth of the story, but we want to get inside the truth. After all, Christianity is an incarnate faith, not just a set of beliefs. It is more than adherence to principles and creeds, it is allegiance to a person. For this Good Friday liturgy, I pray that the Holy Spirit draw our hearts and minds into the garden with him, and up Golgatha beside him. May we come before the cross and face the very embodiment of Love itself, the broken and bruised body of Christ. “Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12)

NOTE: For more information about the Tenebrae service, especially as you prepare your children, click here.

What Wondrous Love is This?
Text: Anonymous
Tune: American Folk Hymn (Southern Harmony, 1835)

This minor and modal tune, based on a six-tone scale, is one of the most famous from the mid-19th-century timeless Appalachian hymnal Southern Harmony. One of those anonymous melodies impossible to trace to its source, it was passed down aurally from generation to generation. It’s imminently hummable and seems both ponderous and spontaneous in its structure. I imagine the hundreds of sweet moments between parent and child at either bedtime or around the campfire, where this hymn was sung together. Poorly clothed immigrants, isolated in the hills of the new world, struggling to come to grips with lost hopes and unrealized dreams, formed a haunting and sorrowful beauty in their culture of worship and music. The first verse of this hymn is a question without an answer. It is a question that starts our Good Friday worship. “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?” The ocean depth of the Love of Christ is almost inconceivable to us. The latter three verses celebrate the reality of the salvation made possible by His death on the cross. They are full of defiant and dogged hope, rooted in the cross and realized in heaven.

Sheet music
“Folk” recording
Modern recording

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Text: Isaac Watts (1707)
Tune: Lowell Mason (1824)

This is one of the greatest hymns ever written, brilliant in its musical simplicity, and profound in its lyrical depth. It is considered the crowning achievement of Isaac Watts, the “father of English hymnody.” The tune, written by Lowell Mason, consists of only five notes, and is based on a Gregorian chant. In our Good Friday liturgy, during the third verse as we sing “sorrow and love flow mingled down,” listen for the “heartbeat” that begins, continues after the verse is done, and slowly dies out as the Christ candle is removed. As we meditate on the cross, I can think of no better hymn to steer our thoughts and stir our hearts than this one. After a long pause to ponder Christ’s passion, we end our entire service with the final verse of this hymn. And, in recognition of the resurrection to come and the hope that the cross brings, we lift our final verse up a whole step from the original key. The Holy Spirit loves a good modulation!

Sheet music
Suggested recording