Year ABC
Great Friday



Opening Prayer

This is the day when life is raw,
quivering, terrifying:
The day of numbed emotions,
the day of blunt nails
and splintered wood,
of bruised flesh
and red blood.
The day we loathe,
when hopes are crushed.
The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.

Gracious God,
your love is a light in our darkness,
vulnerable, yet unquenchable.
We would stand with Christ,
in the midst of the horrors of this world
where betrayal and death
constantly threaten your love and peace.

©1996 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net




Prayer at the Arrest of Christ
(responding to the reading of John 18: 1-12)

Again and again
we have bound you
and taken you captive, O Lord,

Because it's easier,
easier than facing the reality
of what you ask of us.

Again and again
you have been taken captive
and your voice silenced.

Again and again
you have been dragged out
whenever it seems
that quoting your name will justify
our attempts to gain what we want
at the expense of others.


©1996 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net





Prayer at the Death of Christ
(responding to the reading of John 19:25-30)

God, why did you let this happen,
why do our greatest hopes
seem to flicker out and die?

We search for meaning in life
and before we find it, it is gone.
We search for meaning in death
but its horrible reality drives us back
and we are afraid to look.

God, we shudder at the way this life ended:
surrounded by cold brutality,
rejected and betrayed by a friend,
deprived of justice,
and loved by only a frightened few
who watched in fear.

Inside we are afraid that this is all there is,
a flickering light snuffed out, no meaning,
no future, no love.
Evil triumphs yet again.

Evil triumphs so often.
Yours was one of thousands of deaths.
From those times to now
thousands die in loneliness and fear,
victims of the cruelty and oppression of this world.

Remind us with every death,
that there is still so much to be done,
before love reigns
and fear is driven away.


©1996 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net





The Request for the Disposal of the Body
(responding to the reading of John 19:31-37)

Once again we don't want to face up
to what we have done.

We quickly seek to clean up the mess,
to hide the evidence,
to get life normal again.

We want it finished
and the body put out of sight.

And yet that broken body,
if we would only face it
is the evidence of the love we crave
and the source of
the healing we cry for.

Give us courage
to see beyond the blood and the horror.

Give us the hope that in this death
we may find our own life.


©1996 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net







Paraphrases of the Scripture Lections
for Great Friday - Year ABC
Lections from The Revised Common Lectionary.
Copyright 1992 by the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT)
P. O. Box 340003, Room 381, Nashville, TN 37203-0003, USA. Used with Permission.



* Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12

The LORD says:
“This one who serves on my behalf will succeed.
    He will come out on top
        and be honoured by everyone.

Many people were shocked by what happened to him;
    his appearance was enough to make them throw up.
Torture had disfigured him beyond recognition;
    at first sight he no longer looked human.

The next time he’s seen will be an even greater shock;
    nations and their kings will fall to their knees, speechless.
All of a sudden, what they had never seen or understood
    will be as plain as day, and all they can think about.”

The people reply to this news, saying:
“Who could have believed what we now know to be true?
     Who would have recognised what the LORD was doing?

This one who serves on the LORD’s behalf
    grew up hard like a plant taking root in the stony desert.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think he’d amount to much;
    nothing about his appearance would make you look twice.

Others wrote him off, and treated him as scum;
    pain and suffering were his constant companions.
He was despised and abused, but we looked away;
    we didn’t consider him worth caring about.

The sickness and brokenness he endured turned out to be ours;
    if it wasn’t for him, it would have wiped us out.
But back then we thought it was his own fault
    and that God was punishing him for what he had done.

In reality, it was what we had done that was to blame.
    It was us who deserved to be punished,
        but him who copped the flak.
When he was left battered, broken and bleeding,
    we were off the hook;
        free to enjoy the fruits of health and wholeness.

We were all doing our own thing in our own way;
    as far off-track as a penguin in the desert;
        as far off-key as a mob of galahs.
And yet the LORD accepted his offer to take the rap
    for the actions of each and every one of us.

He was ripped off and kicked around,
    but he took it on the chin.
Not once did he ever whinge or protest;
    he was as silent as a lamb that trots to its fate,
        knowing neither shearer nor slaughterer.

His arrest and trial made a mockery of justice.
    No one knew or cared what he was up against.
He was dragged off in the midst of life;
    put to death for crimes committed by our people.

Although he had never breathed a lie
    or done anything to hurt anyone,
they buried him alongside the callous and corrupt
    – thoughtless profiteers who died rich.”

The LORD says,
“It was me who decided to allow this tragedy
    to befall the one who serves on my behalf.
He made the ultimate sacrifice at your hands,
    and won forgiveness for you in the process.
So now he will be rewarded with life;
    he will live to see his children and their children.
Through his actions,
    my plans are able to succeed.

In the depths of agony and despair he discovered the truth,
    and with the truth he found true peace.
The one who serves on my behalf was beyond reproach,
    but he took the rap for what others did,
        and left their record as spotless as his own.

Because of all that he has done,
    I, the LORD, elevate him to the hall of fame
        and give him the rewards of true greatness.
He deserves the best, for he made the ultimate sacrifice,
    accepting the death of common criminal
so that through his suffering and prayers
    others might be cut free from their sin.”

©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net




* Psalm 22

God, my God, why the hell have you turned your back on me?
........How come in my most desperate hour,
................you are nowhere to be found?

I called you all day, God, over and over;
........I tossed and turned all night,
................but I still didn’t hear back from you.

Aren’t you supposed to be our one and only?
........Aren’t you the one we’ve always voted for?
Our ancestors put their trust in you
........and you never let them down.
They cried out for help and you stepped in;
........you saved them from disaster and shame.

So what about me?
........Shouldn’t I still be treated as a human being,
................even if I feel like a worm —
........................looked down on, loathed, stomped on?

Everyone who sees me sticks the boots in;
........they turn up their noses and dismiss me with a sneering joke;
“Why don’t you see if God’s on your side?
........Surely if you’re a mate of God’s then God will help you out!”

What’s the story God?
........Your hands eased me from my mother’s womb;
................You kept me from harm as I suckled at her breast.
........As a baby, I rested trustingly in your arms;
................You’ve been my God since the day I was born.

Don’t quit on me now.
........All hell is about to break loose
........and there is no one else I can turn to.

I’m surrounded by enemies
........like a mob of wild bulls.
Angry, snorting, stampeding beasts;
........they charge at me, all horns and pounding hoofs.

I’m chucked out like a bucket of dirty water,
........and I’m so smashed up I can barely move a muscle.
My heart has gone to jelly,
........a quivering useless blob.
My throat is as dry as a salt pan,
........and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
And you? You have left me for dead
........covered in dust and flies.

Like a pack of hungry dingoes they sniff around me;
........evil mongrels, every one of them.
I’m so wasted my hands and feet feel like they could snap off;
........My ribs stick out like a picket fence.

They hang me up for a public viewing,
........boasting over how they finished me off.
They empty my pockets
........and toss a coin to see who gets my clothes.

What are you doing, LORD? Don’t quit on me now!
........Get your act together and come to my rescue!
Save me before I get my throat cut,
........before my body is dog meat!
................Pull me out before they get their teeth into me!

At last! Just before the bulls ran me down, you have rescued me.
........I won’t forget this — I’ll let everyone know.
................Whenever people gather, I’ll be singing your praise.

I’ll call on all who honour you, LORD, to stand up and say so!
........All who trace their roots to Jacob will give you the glory!
........All who share the heritage of Israel will stand in awe of you!

LORD, you did not rubbish anyone
........or blame the victims for their suffering.
You did not turn away or slip off quietly;
........when I cried for help, you responded.

Whenever people gather to worship,
........my heart overflows and I sing your praises.
Out in the open for all to see
........I’ll do all that I promised.

At your table, God, the needy will feast;
........those who hunger for you will be fed till they burst with praise!
........They will be able to live it up, now and forever!

In every corner of the earth people will wake up to themselves
........and turn back to you, LORD.
Every race, nation, tribe and family
........will offer themselves to you in worship,
for you have the last word on everything;
........what you say goes.

Even the dead will bow down to you, LORD;
........those who are trampled in the dust will look to you in hope,
................and I will live for you and you alone.

Our kids and their kids will serve you, LORD;
........as we pass the message down from one generation to the next.
People not even born yet will hear the story;
........they will be told of what you have done to set us free.

©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net




* Hebrews 10: 16-25

The Holy Spirit says to us in the scriptures:

........“The new alliance I will make with the people
................will be different, says the Lord:
........No more writing down the rules for people to read;
................this time I’ll write them into their hearts and minds.”
........“I’ll wipe the record of their failings and their perverse behaviour;
................none of it will ever again even enter my mind.”

So if that’s done — if the slate has been wiped clean — then there is no longer any need to come offering sacrifices to try to make up for what we’ve done wrong.
........So, my friends, now it’s a whole new ball game. Now we can confidently walk straight into the sacred place because Jesus won us that right, spilling his own blood in the process. We walk in via a new route. The old way had a big curtain between us and the sacred place — on the new route the only thing between us and the sacred place is Jesus, and he invites us to become part of his own body and go in that way. Add all that to the fact that Jesus himself is now our great priest who says what goes in the house of God, and you’ll understand what is now open to us. So let’s go! Let’s approach God with integrity and with deep trust. Let us stand before God knowing for sure that not only have our bodies been washed clean in pure water, but so to have our hearts, our minds, our conscience.
........In light of all this, let’s hold on tight to the hope that we’ve put our hands up to. None of this on-again off-again stuff! You can’t get more dependable than the one who has made these promises. So let’s put on our thinking caps and come up with some good strategies for stirring one another up to greater and greater love and more and more ways to put it into action. Some people have got out of the habit of gathering together as a congregation — let’s not go down that path. Gather often, support and encourage one another. It becomes more and more important the closer we get to that final day.

©2000 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net




* Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9

........Let’s see to it that we stand firm in the faith we’ve already put our hands up to. After all, the one who will present us to God and speak on our behalf — our great high priest — is Jesus, and as God’s own Son we can be sure he has God’s ear. We can also be sure that he can relate to the realities we have to live with, because he has already been through everything we have to go through — weakness, doubts and torments — and all without selling out to sin. What more could we want in a high priest?! So let’s not be timid. Whenever we’re in need of help, let’s walk right up to the throne of God and ask, for our God is extravagantly welcoming and generous — only too happy to wipe our debts and help us out.
........When Jesus was among us and the threat of death was closing in on him, it was with agonized cries and tears that he did his priestly work of offering up prayers and appeals to the God who has the power to save us from death. His pleas were heard because of his prayerful acceptance of God’s will. He was given no special privileges as a Son — he got his lessons in obedience in the same school of suffering as the rest of us. Once he had made the grade, perfecting all that he had to learn, he became the one who sets free all who trust and follow him. For them he is the source of life without limit.

©2000 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net




* John 18:1 - 19:42

........After the supper, and after Jesus had prayed for his followers, they went outside and headed across town to the Kidron Valley gardens where they had often met together before. Judas had now betrayed Jesus, and of course, he knew they would be heading for the gardens. Judas showed the way to those sent to arrest Jesus — a detachment of Roman soldiers and some Temple security guards sent by the chief priests and the hard-line Pharisee party. It was now late, and so the heavily armed group carried torches and flood lights. Jesus knew what he had coming to him and so when they arrived he just stepped out in the open and asked, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered, “We’ve been sent to find Jesus of Nazareth.”
........“Well you’ve found him,” he replied, “I’m Jesus.”
........When he said that, they were so taken aback you could have knocked them over with a feather. Judas, the back-stabber, was still with them. Because they were looking so uncertain, Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
........And again they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
........Jesus answered, “Like I said, I’m Jesus. And since I am the man you’re looking for, you can let these others go in peace.”
........In so saying, he backed up the promise he had made in his earlier prayer when he had said, “I didn’t lose a single one of those you entrusted to me.”
........Suddenly Simon Peter pulled a knife and began slashing wildly. He struck a man named Malchus — a servant of the high priest — and cut off his ear. Jesus yelled at his, saying, “Peter, put that thing away. Do you think I’m going to back out now and refuse to drink the cup that God has poured for me?”
........At that point, the soldiers and the Temple security guards surrounded Jesus and made the arrest. They handcuffed him, and dragged him off to see Annas, who had issued the arrest warrant. Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphus, who was the high priest that year; and Caiaphus was the one who had persuaded the authorities that, for the sake of the rest of the population, it would be best if this one person died.
........Simon Peter and one of the other disciples followed as Jesus was dragged off. When the arrived at the high priest’s residence, Peter was refused entry at the gate, but the other disciple knew the high priest and got in. Having got in, he spoke to the woman in charge of the security gate and had Peter let in too. As he came in, the woman looked at Peter and said, “You’re not one of that man’s disciples are you?”
........He replied, “No, I’m not.”
........The soldiers and guards were standing around an open fire in the middle of the courtyard warming themselves, because it was a cold night. Not knowing what else to do, Peter joined them.
........Inside, the high priest was interrogating Jesus about his followers and about the things he had been teaching the people. Jesus answered him, saying, “Everything I’ve said has been out in the open. I have always done my teaching in the public places where the people gather — in the synagogues and in the temple. I’ve kept nothing behind closed doors, so what are you asking me for? Why don’t you ask the people who heard what I said. They can tell you what it was all about.”
........When he said this, one of the security guards gave Jesus a whack in the face, saying, “You think you can get away with back-chatting the high priest, do you?”
........But Jesus stood his ground, saying, “If you think there’s something wrong with what I’ve been saying, then put your evidence on the table. But if what I’m saying is correct, what are you smacking me around for?”
........While this was happening, Simon Peter was still keeping warm by the fire with the guards. They asked him, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
........“Not me,” said Peter, denying everything.
........One of the Temple guards there was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off when he’d pulled the knife in the garden. He said, “Come on mate, you’ve got to be one of them. Didn’t I just see you with him in the garden when we picked him up?”
........But Peter denied it again, and the words were barely out of his mouth when he heard the sound of the rooster crowing.
........Shortly after that, in the early hours of the morning, Jesus was transferred from the residence of Caiaphus to the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jewish officers themselves did not go inside the headquarters, because it was nearly time for the sacred Passover festival, and going into a gentile home would have ruled them out of participating. Pilate agreed to come out and meet their delegation, and asked them, “So, what have you charged this bloke with?”
........They answered, “You can take it for granted that he’s a dangerous criminal — otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered you with his case.”
........Pilate replied, “I’m sure you are quite capable of dealing with him yourselves. Get him out of here and deal with him according to your own local laws.”
........But the Jewish officers said, “We don’t have the power to authorise an execution.”
........Clearly the things Jesus had previously said about the sort of death he would die were coming true.
........Pilate went back into his headquarters and had Jesus brought inside so he could interrogate him. “Do you see yourself as the King of the Jews?” he asked.
........Jesus replied, saying, “Is that your own question or has someone else been wording you up?”
........“Give me a break,” Pilate retorted, “I’m obviously not one of the Jews, am I? It wasn’t my people who had you dragged in here. It was your mob, your own race, your own religious leaders. What in the world have you done?”
........Jesus answered, “My reign is not tied to this world. If my power base depended on this world, those who have given their allegiance to me would be fighting tooth and nail to keep me out of the hands of that mob. But it’s not like that. My reign is not tied to this world.”
........Pilate latched on to that: “So you are claiming to be a king then?”
........“You’re the one who’s putting the ‘king’ label on me,” Jesus replied. “If you want to know what I’m on about, what I was born into the world for, it’s this: I’m the key witness whose job it is to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everyone who has given their allegiance to the truth responds to my voice.”
........“Truth,” Pilate sneered. “What is truth?”
........Then he went back outside to the delegation from the Temple and told them, “I can’t find any basis for a case against this prisoner. It is customary for me to release a political prisoner for you at Passover time. How about I release this ‘king of the Jews’ for you? He seems harmless enough to me.”
........But they shouted back, “No way! Not this man. Release Barabbas!” Barabbas was a convicted terrorist.
........At that point, Pilate handed Jesus over to some of his own soldiers and told them to give him a flogging. The soldiers thought it was huge joke. They hung a purple robe on him and wove a crown out of barbed wire and jammed it on his head. They took turns at coming up to him, saying, “Heil, King of the Jews!” as they saluted him, and then smashed their fists into his face. When they’d finished their brutal sport, Pilate went back out to the Temple delegation and said, “Look, I’m handing him back over to you and telling you that I can’t find any basis for a case against him.”
........Jesus was dragged back out, still wearing the barbed wire crown and the purple robe. Pilate said “Here he is: the man!”
........But the minute the chief priests and the Temple security guards saw him, they began screaming, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
........Pilate replied, “You take him and crucify him yourselves. I can’t see that he’s done anything wrong.”
........The delegation replied, “The case against him is clear in our law. He claimed to be the Son of God and our law makes the death penalty mandatory for that.”
........When Pilate heard this, he began to really worry, and went back inside his headquarters to interview Jesus again. “Where have you come from?” he asked him, but Jesus didn’t answer. Pilate said to him, “It’s no use claiming the right to silence. Don’t you understand that I can say the word to have you released or to have you tortured to death?”
........Jesus replied, “You wouldn’t have any authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from a higher power. It is the one who handed me over to you who is going to have to answer for the greatest wrongdoing.”
........After that, Pilate tried to have Jesus released, but the Temple crowd would have none of it. They insisted, “If you release this man you are no friend of the emperor, and we’ll see that he hears about it. Anyone who claims to be a king is setting himself up in opposition to the emperor.”
........With that, Pilate capitulated to their demands. At noon on the day of Preparation for the Passover festival, Pilate sat down at the judge’s bench at the Stone Pavement Court — known in Hebrew as Gabbatha — and had Jesus stood in the dock. He said to the Temple delegation, “Here is your king!”
........They shouted in chorus, “Get rid of him! Kill him! Crucify him!”
........“Crucify him?” Pilate replied. “You want me to crucify your king?”
........“We have no king but the emperor!” they shouted.
........With that, Pilate passed sentence and handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.
........So they took Jesus out to the place called Skull Hill, or in Hebrew, Golgotha. Jesus was made to carry his own cross on the way out there. When they got there, they hung him on the cross by nails driven through his flesh. They crucified a couple of other convicted men at the same time — the three of them in a row with Jesus in the middle. On Pilate’s orders, a sign was hung on the cross Jesus was on, saying, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many people read the sign because the crucifixion occurred in a public place on the main road into the city and the sign was written in three languages — Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The chief priests from the Temple went to Pilate objecting to the sign. They wanted the sign changed from “The King of the Jews” to “This man claimed to be the King of the Jews” but Pilate told them that what was written was written and that was the end of the story.
........When the soldiers had hung Jesus up on the nails, they divided up his clothes between the four of them. His robe was left over, and when they saw that it was woven from a single piece of fabric, with no seams, they decided that rather than tear it, they’d have a round of two-up, and award it to the winner. This backed up what the scriptures had said long ago:
........“They divided up my clothes,
................and tossed for my coat.”

........While the soldiers tossed coins, a group of women stood near Jesus’ cross. They were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Jesus saw that his mother was standing with the disciple with whom he was most intimate, and so he said to his mother, “Woman, this man is your son.” And then he said to the disciple, “This woman is your mother.” From that day on, Mary moved into the home of that disciple.
........After that, Jesus knew it was all over. He did one more thing that the scriptures had spoken about. He said, “I’m thirsty.”
........Someone had half a bottle of wine that had turned to vinegar, so they poured some into a sponge and held it up to his mouth. He drank it and then said, “Everything is finished.”
........With that, his head dropped and he gave up his spirit.
........Because it was the day of Preparation for the Passover, the Temple authorities wanted to make sure the bodies were not left hanging up on the sacred festival day. They went to Pilate and got him to authorise the soldiers to break the legs of the three crucified men, so that they’d die quicker. The soldiers broke the legs of the other two crucified men, but when they came to Jesus, they saw that there was no need — he was already dead. Just to make sure, one of the soldiers drove a spear into his side, and blood and water gushed out.
........The eyewitness to these things has given a sworn account of it all. His report is true and can be trusted. Scripture was again shown to be true, because it was written that not one of his bones would be broken. Similarly in another place the scriptures said, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
........When it was all over, a man went to Pilate and got permission to take the body of Jesus for burial. His name was Joseph of Arimethea, and he had been a closet follower of Jesus, because he was afraid for his reputation with the Temple hierarchy. He and Nicodemus, who had first spoken to Jesus in the quiet of night, removed the body. Nicodemus supplied the embalming spices, and as was the Jewish custom, they wrapped the body with the spices in linen cloth. There was a memorial garden not far from the place where Jesus was crucified, and there was a tomb there which had not yet been used. Because it was the day of preparation and there was little time, they buried Jesus in that tomb.

©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net