Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday, Tenebrae, and the proper amount of drama

I tend to judge churches based on their music and the sermon, and I can be quite negatively judgmental if a church abandons the readings from the Common Lectionary to chart their own course. Lately, I've been thinking that how a church conducts Good Friday service might also be a way for me to tell whether or not the church is a good fit for me.

As a child, I had two favorite services: Christmas Eve (of course) and Good Friday. Yes, even before I became a drama major, I had a sense of good theatre. I liked both services for many reasons, but mainly I liked them because they were so different from what we did the rest of the year and because they were so richly symbolic.

I'll never forget the first time I went to a Good Friday service at my last church. Sun streamed in through the windows because we had the service early in the evening, in the hopes that our many elderly parishioners would come if they thought they could be home by dark. The lights blazed throughout the building. We didn't have any additional candles. We zipped through the readings in a perfunctory, monotone voice.

And then, to my shock, the service was over. No big booming slam of the Bible. The lights were still on, the candles still lit. We left the building not in silence, but in chattiness at the door as people coordinated the Easter decorating.

In disgust, I went home and watched Jesus of Montreal, a perfect film for Good Friday.

I stayed with that church for ten years. I always tried to move the church towards doing more with various worship services. That church did Christmas Eve really well, but I could never convince anyone that the Good Friday services needed fixing.

Tonight, at my "new church" (we joined in December), we will have a full, Tenebrae service. Our pastor has mentioned his high school drama teacher, and we've had fascinating conversations about being English majors in college, so at last, I've found a pastor with a similar mindset to mine (my former pastor was a History major and a volunteer fireman/policeman before he was a pastor--make of that what you will). A worship service has many similarities to a good theatre performance, and we ignore that at our peril. And with a service like Good Friday's, where it doesn't take much to figure out how to inject drama and symbolism into the service, it's insane to treat it as if it's a Thanksgiving Eve service or something similarly expendable.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I agree with your statements completely. A life long lutheran, I have always left a Good Friday service feeling disappointed if I haven't shed a tear, or felt chills in response to the gravity of it all. This is a night for us to mourn the death of our God... in anticipation of the promises that are fulfilled through Him. Its not just another service.

Our tenebrae tonight gave me chills... and reminded me of the true joy we can anticipate on Sunday