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The Friday before Easter is called Good Friday. It might seem strange remembering someone dying on a day and then calling it Good. It sounds like we are saying it was a good thing that Jesus died. It wasn’t. It was a terrible thing. God in God’s goodness, somehow, in a wya we cannot fully understand, brought life out of that death. Brought peace out of that violence.

In the Book of Common Prayer the Liturgy is fairly simple in some ways but parts of it might need a little bit of explanation.

There are readings, of course. We always have the whole of the St. John Passion. This is a slightly different way of telling the story to the other three Gospels and so it is read each year. The passion narratives from the other three (synoptic) Gospels are read in turn over three years on Palm Sunday.

There are some longish prayers in there which we only use on this day. The pace of this liturgy is designed to be slower and more deliberate. It is not supposed to be morose, neither is it meant to force us into unnatural emotions, or set out to make us feel bad. It is paced to give space

There is an option to bring in a cross, which we do. Words are sung or said at three points as it comes in. We make these mirror the points where the Easter Candle will stop on its journey into Church in a couple of days at hte Vigil Service. 

“This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the saviour of the world”

“Come let us worship”

The service does not set out to tell people exactly how God did what God did. There are images in readings and prayers. In hymns and in sacrament. They are for people to experience and enter into this journey.

We don’t celebrate the Eucharist on Good Friday. Instead, we have saved consecrated bread from the night before. This has been the center of the Watch of the Passion (see the Maundy Thursday Blog). Not everyone wants communion on Good Friday because that is not their tradition. As with many Holy Week rituals they are there for those who want them and are not forced on those who don’t .

The Good Friday Liturgy is written to end at noon. All consecrated bread and wine are finished up and the Aumbry ( the place we always keep extra consecrated bread and wine) is left open and empty. It is a stark image.

Some Churches, including ours, offer the Stations of the Cross at noon. This is a walk with Jesus to the cross around 14 points. The pictures are up permanently in Church and there are special readings and prayers with each one. The congregation, if they are able, literally move around the Church from picture to picture.

In many places the Liturgy of the Day is used in the evening. This is understandable for those who work but it is also a shame because we lose that long afternoon and evening of silence in the Church. The sense of loss is not soo obvious when you leave Church on Friday night and then many will be coming back on Saturday to decorate. The silence does not have a chance to settle in quite the same way. 

Whether you get to Church or not, the afternoon and evening or Good Friday and the whole of Saturday are days of grief and emptiness. You will, likely, be busy with other things but pause, for a moment here and there, to ponder and empty cross and Jesus dead and in the tomb. This time of desolation might seem depressing but it can be prfoundly comforting as it speaks to something deep within us. That silence allows the trauma of loss and the agony which we sometimes find ourselves in the midst of. That silence speaks to all of the things we feel helpless in the face of. 

Easter will come soon enough. Some time after 6pm the Great Vigils will begin. The story of the people of God will be told and fires and candles will be lit. The chant at three places in the Church will be “The Light of Christ”. 

But allow that silence first. Understand that emptiness which longs to be filled. Allow the questions which cannot be answered.

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Cease not wet eyes, his mercies to entreat. That is the next line in our hymn for the week. The reading today was from John 13:21-32

I always feel sorry for Judas. He is one of the most tragic figures in the Bible. He has walked with Jesus until, literally, this eleventh hour and then he throws it all in. For what.

When I was younger I seem to think that I was taught something along the lines of, “well he hung himself and that served him right”. Judas was seen as the ultimate quitter, quit on Jesus and quit on himself. It was a merciless view and has, for centuries, influenced the way we treat mental illness and suicide. 

The fact is that we now know that self destructive abandonment is rarely a choice. It is easy to see Judas as greedy but he was not just that. He took blood money but something in him snapped when he saw what he had done. Something he thought he could not recover from. In God's mercy we do not know what happened to Judas after his death. It is through the eyes of God's mercy that we have to try to see Judas and anyone else who commits such damaging acts.

What Judas did in betraying his friend and teacher was not alright. Not at all. But why he did it and why he turned his wrath on himself, we do not know. We do know that, even in his darkest hour God still loved him. This is a two way lesson. Firstly, when we encounter those who are just awful, horrible, reprehensible human beings we have to remember that God still loves them, no matter how broken and ugly they are. Secondly, we have to remember that God loves us in our own darkest hour. Even when we are too far away to feel that, we can know that. 

If God can love Judas when Judas betrays God to the cross, God can love you and very much wants you to find some light, no matter how impossible that seems or how deep the darkness has fallen.

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All you ever wanted to know about Maundy Thursday

When is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday.

Where does the name come from?

The New Testament was written in Greek and then in Latin long before it god to English. In John’s Gospel, in Chapter 13, Jesus says to his disciples that he is giving them a “new commandment”. The word in the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, is Mandatum. It is where the English word Mandate comes from.

What is the Commandment

Jesus commands us to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Read it here

Are there special services?

Yes. There is a special service (Liturgy) which we only use on Maundy Thursday

What is different about it?

There are three big things, footwashing, stripping the altar and the Watch of the Passion.

What is foot washing?

First people can reenact Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet by washing each other's feet. Different Churches do this in different ways. In some places everyone can join in and in others people are chosen beforehand. It is really important to say that, even in a Church where anyone can join in, noone has to join in. If you don’t fancy the idea just stay in your seat. If someone invites you, just say, “No thanks”.

What is stripping the Altar?

The second thing which happens which is different is that after the Communion is over the church is stripped bare. That means  all the candles, decorations, fabrics and furniture which moves is moved. This is done with different degrees of ceremony in different churches. There might be some songs, or psalms but the church is left bare and people often leave in the dark. 

What is the Watch of the Passion?

Only one candle is left burning in the church, next to a container with bread which is saved from the Communion. We believe that Jesus is really present in the bread (although we don’t go so far as to claim we know exactly how). This means that during the night, when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can sit in Church or watch online remembering  Jesus' presence on this holy night. Some Churches build amazing gardens for people to “watch” in. Some churches are open all night, some have lock ins, some stream. This is called the “Watch of the Passion”

Why is the colour white used for Maundy Thursday in some places?

This is purely down to interpretation. Up until now, Holy Week has been using red coloured hangings and vestments (clergy robes). There is a choice to stay with red. The change to white is used when we want to remember the party atmosphere of the Last Supper. We remember Jesus giving bread and wine for the first time as body and blood. We know what was going to happen next but, at the time, his followers were probably just having fun and hanging out, a party. The mood changes suddenly when the feasting ends and we are moved to the outside. It is night as Jesus and his followers head to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Isn’t this a lot of stuff for one day?

Yes, it is a whole lot of stuff.  That is why different Churches choose to celebrate it in different ways and emphasise different things. Andglican and Roman Catholic Churches have set liturgies but, even within those, there are different ways to do things. 

What if I don’t understand what is happening?

Holy Week is not really about understanding everything  - it is about experiencing this journey which Jesus makes and letting that journey become part of who we are. Each year is different. Some years some parts of the story will resonate, other years another part will speak loud and clear. Even those years when we feel very far from the story teach us - sometimes they just remind us of how much we value closeness with God. You can get very emotional in Holy Week or not feel any emotion at all. Think of emotion as one of many things which are in our spiritual toolbox.

It is important to remember that all our Church season and festivals are intended to provide a framework in which we can worship. Simply "getting it all right" and showing up to everything is not really what it is about. We are invited to deeper relationship by God. That is what matters. We have to stop, and look, and listen and be really honest about ourselves.

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