Liturgy Lesson: April 19th, 2019 – Good Friday
“You will never know God as Father except by Jesus Christ, and in particular, by his death upon the cross…Look there, gaze, meditate, survey the wondrous cross. And then you will see something of him.”
– Martin Lloyd Jones
“No theology is genuinely Christian which does not arise from and focus on the cross.”
– Martin Luther
Fun fact. The letter “T” is made by forming a cross. This means that a cross is literally at the center of hisTory. It stands proudly in the middle of other words like righTeous, jusTice, and vicTory. The whole of WesTern CulTure won’t hold together without it, and it is absolutely cenTral in every sancTuary. It makes mysTery but not misery and is the inevitable journey’s end for every hearT aT resT. The cross also happens to be the bedrock of the beauTiful.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, a title which does little justice to the cosmic significance of the event that day commemorates. Phenomenal Friday is staggering, breathtaking, aweful, and miraculous. Jesus Christ is Love incarnate, and His sacrificial death on the cross is the most sublime act of love in all history. It is impossible to express the depths of meaning in that dreaded and determined hour when the Word was made mute and the Author of Life was given over to death. The ocean is but a puddle compared to the fathomless depths of love and life to be found at the cross. The murky blackout of the deep waters is but thin twilight compared to the eternal darkness that Christ entered on our behalf. He gave up his spirit and slipped willingly into all the horrors of the void. In the beginning of time He had illuminated the darkness that was upon the face of the deep, and now he begins a new creation by piercing the impenetrable gloom of the grave.
The beloved John tells us to “Behold the Lamb of God.” Good Friday is the day for us to contemplate the Christ the Paschal Lamb. His cross is so captivating and compelling that it invites us to do what the disciples failed to do in the garden. To watch and pray. When approaching the cross of Christ, we must not simply understand it, we must stand under it. Watch and pray. Our faith is cold, but his blood streams toward us as it leaves his head, his hands, his feet, his side. Watch and pray. Our hearts are stone, yet his broken body is offered for us. Watch and pray. It is for this reason that we employ the greatest hymns and prayers. They help us watch and pray. That is what we will do on Friday night. Please join us for the Tenebrae (“service of shadows”) Service at 7 p.m. If you wish to know more about the details of the service, I refer you here.
Here are four of my favorite poems for Good Friday. Below them is some info on a few of the hymns we will be singing at the service.
By R.S. Thomas
A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin,
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.
I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers,
Caught temporarily in art’s neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.
So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns’ halo:
The men standing by and that one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.
By R.S. Thomas
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
Jesus Hasting to Suffer
by William Cowper
The Saviour, what a noble flame
Was kindled in his breast,
When hasting to Jerusalem,
He march’d before the rest.
Good will to men, and zeal for God,
His every thought engross;
He longs to be baptized with blood,
He pants to reach the cross!
With all His suffering full in view,
And woes to us unknown,
Forth to the task His spirit flew,
‘Twas love that urged Him on.
Lord, we return Thee what we can:
Our hearts shall sound abroad,
Salvation to the dying Man,
And to the rising God!
And while Thy bleeding glories here
Engage our wondering eyes,
We learn our lighter cross to bear,
And hasten to the skies.
By Christina Rossetti
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Words: Thomas Kelly, 1804
Music: O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN, Geistliche Volkslieder, 1850
Thomas Kelly (1769-1855) grew up as an Irish Catholic. As a young man he studied law and theology, but later turned to ministry in the Anglican Church. He was incredibly fiery and fervent as a preacher (this spirit exudes from his hymns), and was so popular and controversial that the Anglican bureaucracy prohibited his preaching in official churches. Kelly had a passion for the poor and served tirelessly during the great Irish famine of 1845-49. He was a prodigious and prolific preacher and writer, finding time in a ministry of almost 60 years to write over 750 hymns.
Thomas Kelly has a handful of hymns in the Trinity hymnal, and among them is our Pastor Eric’s favorite hymn, “Look, Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious.”
But perhaps Kelly’s greatest hymn of them all is “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” There are many hymns that proclaim Christian doctrine clearly and explicitly, but not many that do so while maintaining a high poetic standard. This hymn is not pedantic. It is dramatic, but not sentimental. The hymn takes its title from the iconic passage in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah that vividly depicts the Suffering Messiah. I imagine that Thomas Kelly found much to resonate with the writings of Isaiah. Many biblical scholars say that Isaiah’s style of writing reveals a well-educated background. There is great expressive versatility and brilliant use of imagery that makes the entire book of Isaiah an absolute masterpiece. I especially love the use of metaphor and hyperbole. The book of Isaiah is embroidered with such passion, and Thomas Kelly captures this rhetoric with his hymn. In the first three verses, he gives us striking and sobering unveilings of the nature of Christ, the cross, and the nature of sin itself. Then, he offers up this final stanza:
“Here we have a firm foundation; here the refuge of the lost;
Christ, the rock of our salvation, His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built.”
In this brief summary of the law and the gospel we find echoes of two other famous hymns. Do you see them? It is unlikely that Kelly took the start of his final verse from “How Firm a Foundation” (written in America in 1787), but what is often said about our twin boys could apply here, “the resemblance is uncanny.” There is also the possibility that the end of this verse was the inspiration for another great American hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” which was written thirty years later in 1834. Here we have a hymn that serves as an axis for past and future hymnwriters. And the hymn itself commemorates the cross by pondering that holy hinge upon which all history turned from darkness to light, from the grave to glory.
The tune that carries this text is an anonymous German folk tune in revised bar form (AABA), a common song structure for many hymns. It is simple, bowing its head in minor mode for most of the time, but gently lifting at moments for glimmers of hope, particularly in the third phrase, which takes us ever so briefly into the relative major key.
This is a musical reminder that all this suffering is laced with great joy. The cross has a purpose: the glory of Christ and the redemption of His bride. He makes all things new and by his stripes we are healed.
My Song is Love Unknown
Text: Samuel Crossman (1664)
Tune: ST. JOHN, John Baptiste Calkin (1827-1905)
In Galatians 6:14, Paul passionately states “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” This prayer is the root of an exquisite meditation on the suffering Savior by the aptly named Samuel Crossman in 1664. It is very similar in tone and style to the mystical poetry of George Herbert. In seven devotional and heartfelt verses, Crossman beautifully illuminates the love of Christ. The first verse contains the simple and sublime statement that Christ is “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.” In the next five verses Crossman ruminates on the rejected and despised Jesus, asking “why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite?” He then declares the truth that Christ “willing to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.” And then, in a tender benediction, Crossman gives us one of the greatest final verses in all of hymnody.
“Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
Never was love, dear King, never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend!”
On Friday, we will take Crossman’s advice and linger to honor the man on the Cross. In our actions we will upgrade the phrase ‘might stay’ to a definitive. Here we will stay and sing. This is beautiful and right. We love because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). We give ourselves to him because He gave himself for us (Eph. 5:25). We sing because He sings over us (Zeph. 3:17). It is all just so apt and fitting. Isaac Watts reminds us, the only appropriate response to “Love so amazing, so divine” is to offer up “my life, my love, my all.” This Jesus, this “love to the loveless shown,” He is our great Friend, in whose presence and sweet praise we will gladly spend our days.