Friday, April 15, 2022

Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent: Good Friday (April 15, 2022)

 *You are welcome to use or adapt any of my resources for free, but I ask that you provide proper citation AND comment on this post to let me know.*

(This is the ninth liturgy in a series of Lukan Lessons and Carols for Lent. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here; Lent 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 can be found hereherehereherehere, and here; the Maundy Thursday Liturgy can be found here. I am excluding parts of the worship that were not directly connected to the series as well as parts that I give extemporaneously.)

This service was originally created as a video and uploaded to the church's Youtube channel. I specifically recruited friends of mine that I knew would be able to deliver a dramatic reading of the monologues. These are not meant to be read dryly; they are meant to tap into the emotions of the characters as I imagined them.

I'm happy for anyone to use any part(s) of this series in their own worship contexts with proper attribution, but I would request that you let me know in the comments that you're doing so.


Good Friday Reflection (Monologues written by Rev. Katey Schwind Williams)


Good evening, and welcome to the continuation of our Holy Week service. Throughout Lent, the community of Boone Memorial Presbyterian Church has been reading through Luke’s gospel and thinking about testimony. Giving a testimony may sound intimidating, but at its core, a testimony is nothing more or less than the story of your own experience. Each of the canonical gospels is a testimony – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John may be passing along stories that have been handed down to them, but each of them does so by offering their own unique perspective, their own emphases, their own understanding: in other words, their own experience of Jesus the Christ.

As we approach the end of Luke’s gospel, notice how many people were there with Jesus in the final moments of his earthly life. Notice how many of those present had a role, however small, in Luke’s account of Christ’s death. As we imagine the testimony that these people might offer, imagine, too, all the voices of those who were there but are now forgotten to us, all of the testimonies lost to time. Imagine all of the testimonies silenced by oppression or fear through the ensuing days and years and centuries. And let us reflect on how we can share our own testimony of Jesus Christ, here and now, so that we might honor those voices that were denied the opportunity.

FIRST READING (Luke 23:1-7)

The whole assembly got up and led Jesus to Pilate and began to accuse him. They said, “We have found this man misleading our people, opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming that he is the Christ, a king.”

Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.”

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no legal basis for action against this man.”

But they objected strenuously, saying, “He agitates the people with his teaching throughout Judea—starting from Galilee all the way here.”

Hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was from Herod’s district, Pilate sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.


“I’m a busy man. My time is valuable. So when the chief priests brought this Jesus before me, accompanied by a crowd ready to riot, the only thing I could think of was, ‘How do I get these people to leave me alone?’ The Jews aren’t my problem, anyway. As long as they pay their taxes, follow the law, and honor Caesar, what do I care about their petty little squabbles? And all their yelling was giving me a headache.

“I tried to use reason: ‘This man has done nothing to offend the emperor,’ I protested, ‘so how can I punish him?’ But the crowd didn’t care about logic. For whatever reason, they had it out for this man. To be fair, he annoyed me, too. He answered my questions with…well, he didn’t actually answer them at all. He neither affirmed nor denied the charges against him. What am I supposed to do with that? He stayed irritatingly calm throughout the whole thing, even with the crowd shouting abuse in his ears. It seemed unnatural, inhuman. But that’s no reason to kill a man…is it?

“When I learned that he was Galilean, I seized the opportunity to rid myself of this annoyance. Make him Herod’s problem, I thought to myself, I have more important things I could be doing. Besides, Herod deserves to have some of his time wasted; that man thinks far too highly of himself and could stand to be brought down a few pegs.

“As the chief priests dragged Jesus out of the room, he looked back at me. The look he gave me made my blood run cold. Not because I was afraid of him – as if some nobody from Galilee could scare me! No, when he looked at me, I felt like he saw deep inside my heart, past my clothes and adornments, past my practiced expression of indifference, and searched all of my thoughts and feelings. Needless to say, I’m not accustomed to being looked at that way; it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I hoped I wouldn’t see this so-called ‘king of the Jews’ again…but something told me that he wasn’t a problem that was going to be solved easily.”

SECOND READING (Luke 23:8-12)

Herod was very glad to see Jesus, for he had heard about Jesus and had wanted to see him for quite some time. He was hoping to see Jesus perform some sign. Herod questioned Jesus at length, but Jesus didn’t respond to him. The chief priests and the legal experts were there, fiercely accusing Jesus. Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt. Herod mocked him by dressing Jesus in elegant clothes and sent him back to Pilate. Pilate and Herod became friends with each other that day. Before this, they had been enemies.


“I’d been wanting to meet this Jesus for a long time now. Word of his exploits had been swirling around Galilee for a few years now, and while I had my doubts about his alleged abilities, I have to admit that I was curious. They were saying that he could heal any illness with nothing more than a touch, or a word. They even said that he brought people back from the dead. The rumor was that he was sent by God. That he was the one the people have been waiting for. But the pharisees assured me that that couldn’t be true, the way he flaunted Gods own laws—eating with sinners, touching the unclean, working on the Sabbath—imagine! He couldn’t possibly be anything worth worrying about. When Pilate sent him to me, I figured at the very least, he’d be good for some entertainment. An astounding magician if he really was all that they said he was; an asinine clown if he wasn’t. Either way, an amusing way to spend a few hours.

“But still, if I’m being entirely honest…I was a little nervous, too. Some had been saying that he was Elijah reincarnated, and that would be bad enough. But others were saying that he was John come back from the dead, and that…well, that idea made my skin crawl. I’d taken care of John, made sure that he could never spread slander about me ever again. (That’s one of the benefits of working with the Romans, you know…lots of leeway to take care of things as I see fit.) He COULDN’T be John. And yet…but I’m an agent of the Roman government! A powerful, important man! Even if he was somehow John reincarnated, he couldn’t possibly be a threat to me.

“When Jesus walked into the room, and I was astounded by how…AVERAGE he looked. He didn’t look especially strong, or confident, or impressive. He didn’t look like the sort of man who could cause the kind of trouble he was accused of. Anyway, he certainly couldn’t be John—THAT man had an indisputable presence about him! So, with my anxiety eased, I ordered him to perform a miracle, some sort of sign that he was who they said he was. I reminded him what I could do to him, what Pilate could do to him, what Caesar could do to him. But get this: he never said a word. Not a single word. I could understand him not responding to the chief priests and legal experts, but ME?? The unmitigated gall! I simply couldn’t believe it. I had to show this fool who he was dealing with.

“The strange thing was that it didn’t seem like he was TRYING to irritate me. As angry as I was, it didn’t seem to me like that was his objective at all. His attitude wasn’t defiant or arrogant; it was more…tired. Weary, actually. And sad. So, so sad. I’d never seen such grief in anyone’s eyes before. Even as those in the room took turns spitting insults and abuse at him, he barely even seemed to notice us. His grief went far deeper and farther than that moment. And that…that scared me. What did he know that could distract from the punishment he was enduring, the punishment that was inevitably yet to come? What kind of man WAS this?”

THIRD READING (Luke 23:13-25)

Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people. He said to them, “You brought this man before me as one who was misleading the people. I have questioned him in your presence and found nothing in this man’s conduct that provides a legal basis for the charges you have brought against him. Neither did Herod, because Herod returned him to us. He’s done nothing that deserves death. Therefore, I’ll have him whipped, then let him go.”

But with one voice they shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison because of a riot that had occurred in the city, and for murder.)

Pilate addressed them again because he wanted to release Jesus.

They kept shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For the third time, Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I’ve found no legal basis for the death penalty in his case. Therefore, I will have him whipped, then let him go.”

But they were adamant, shouting their demand that Jesus be crucified. Their voices won out. Pilate issued his decision to grant their request. He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown into prison because of a riot and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.


“I never thought I’d see the sun again. I mean, I knew the Romans customarily released a prisoner at Passover (not as a genuine display of mercy, mind you; simply a way to mollify the crowd and keep them quiet). I just never in a thousand years imagined that it would be me. MY crime was political; *I* was a threat: I took part in a violent protest against the Romans. Even if I HADN’T killed someone during the chaos, my public opposition to the empire had already sealed my fate. I was a traitor and a murderer. I regret nothing, but according to the law, I deserved to be put to death.

“This Jesus, on the other hand…he just seemed to have gotten on the wrong side of some powerful people. I didn’t know him, but I’d heard of him. I knew that he had butted heads with some of the leaders in his own community, but he seemed strangely unwilling to act against them. They saw him as an enemy, but his opposition never seemed to go much farther than words. Honestly, I don’t get it. I can’t see how he would be able to change anything if he wasn’t willing to FIGHT for it.

“Anyway, I thought for sure Pilate would release Jesus. I was – I still am – a direct threat to his rule. Jesus was just a little man with a big mouth. The choice seemed obvious. But for some reason, the people…the people were out for blood. They were SO angry – whether at Jesus, or because of what he represented, or just as a scapegoat, I’ll never know. Maybe they couldn’t understand him, either.

“I’m not complaining. I have a second chance, and I’m not going to waste it. As soon as I get out of here, I’m going to jump right back into the resistance against these Roman bullies. I’m going to find my sword and pick up right where I left off. It’ll probably just land me right back in prison, but how can I not fight for what I believe in? I feel bad for this Jesus, though. It seems like he wanted to make a difference. He just didn’t fight hard enough. I wonder how people will remember him when he’s gone.”

FOURTH READING (Luke 23:26-31)

As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed Jesus, including women, who were mourning and wailing for him. Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”


“As a woman, you get used to not being noticed. You get used to being written off as ‘hysterical’, ‘irrational’, ‘crazy’, ‘simple’. You get used to being taken for granted. I joined my friends to see these events with my own eyes in spite of my husband’s objections, not to make any kind of statement or to make waves, but simply because I felt that I couldn’t not go. I didn’t expect anyone to notice our grief, or to take it seriously.

“But HE did. Of all people, Jesus noticed. Every step taking him closer to his last breath, the instrument of his own death following him like a shadow, and he stopped and SAW us. Out of the hundreds of people in the crowd, he saw US. He saw our anguish, and instead of silencing or dismissing us, he validated it. He honored it. He recognized our wailing for the elegy that it was.

“Not only that, but he mourned for US. Can you imagine? A man walking to his own crucifixion saw a group of women weeping for him, and HE wept for US. He knew, as we did, that our hope was dying. That we could see no happy ending ahead of us. That we feared the world that we would be leaving our children, a world where faith was rewarded with violence and dreams of salvation were nailed to a cross. He saw all of these things through our eyes, and he mourned with us.

“The grief was overwhelming, almost too heavy to bear…but in that moment, I didn’t feel like I was carrying it alone. The sense of hopelessness persisted, but it no longer felt like a path that I was being forced to navigate alone. For however much longer he lived, I knew that Jesus was with me. That he saw me. That he loved me.

“That…that was almost MORE unbearable. But somehow, it gave me strength to know that. To be seen, and understood, and loved. No matter what the future held, I knew that I would somehow face it, just as Jesus faced his own death. By putting one foot in front of the other. No matter what. May God have mercy on us all.”

FIFTH READING (Luke 23:32-43)

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”


“I’ve never had much faith. Faith won’t put food on the table or clothes on your back; faith won’t protect you from the thieves and murderers on the street or in the government. I’ve only ever trusted myself. That’s how I survived as long as I did. I suppose that’s also what got me here, dying in the hot sun with nails in my wrists and ankles: when you’re the only one looking out for you, the world is bound to catch up eventually.

“Looking down from the cross, I certainly had no regrets about how I’d lived my life. When I looked to the right, I saw people sneering at the condemned, caring more about the clothes that they left behind than about the fate of our souls, just barely clinging to life. When I looked to the left, I saw soldiers jeering at us from their positions of comfort and power. Humankind is cruel and merciless, and I was not sorry to be leaving it behind.

“But when I looked next to me, I saw something, someONE, different. Jesus was the target of the most vitriolic and insulting of the ridicule thrown up at us, and yet unlike the rest of us, the words he spoke from his cross were not in defense or retaliation. ‘Forgive them, Abba; they don’t know what they’re doing,’ he prayed. ‘Forgive them.’

“Here was a man who should have no faith left, in humanity OR the divine. He’d been betrayed, falsely accused, mocked, tortured, and finally left to die, all for a crime he didn’t even commit. If I’d been him, I WOULD have saved myself, had it been within my power to do it, if only to spite the authorities that condemned, the soldiers that mocked, and the god that had abandoned me. But he didn’t. He just kept praying that his god would forgive these people who had wronged him so unforgivably.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. I mustered up what little strength I had left and spat back at Jesus’ tormentors, ‘How dare you! This man is better than any of us! He doesn’t deserve this!’ As I collapsed with the effort of defending this person I didn’t even know, he turned and spoke to me. I don’t know if I believe what he said. I don’t see how it could be true. But maybe…maybe, I’ll try to trust…just this once. What do I have to lose?

SIXTH READING (Luke 23:44-49)

It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.

When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.


“As a centurion, I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen great cowardice and great courage, great selfishness and great humility, great evil and great goodness. But I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve seen men hung on crosses for questionable offences, but I’ve never seen one who accepted his fate so…graciously. That’s the only word to describe it. Gracious. I’ve never seen a man using one of his final breaths to comfort a criminal. I’ve never seen the sun itself seem to mourn for a casualty of the Roman Empire’s version of justice.

“I’ve borne witness to many men’s final moments. Some embrace death with stoicism; others with anger; still others with regret. I’ve seen men laugh, cry, and remain silent at the moment their spirit leaves their body. But rarely have I ever seen someone embrace death – especially one as violent as crucifixion – with the sort of faith that this man showed.

“I’m a good soldier; I follow orders and do what I’m told. I respect authority and I toe the line. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t think for myself. I have eyes and a brain. I saw how nature itself reacted to this man’s death. I heard the weeping of his followers. I felt the breath go out of him, forcibly, but without any malice or anger, as if my own heart were the one that was stopping. For a moment, I thought it DID stop. Then, I felt it beat again, just as it always had. But I wasn’t the same.

“Somehow, I knew that this man was not only innocent of the crime for which he was killed, but truly blameless. Righteous. Holy. I’m not usually a praying man, but in that moment, I couldn’t stop myself from lifting up words of praise to the god that this man was willing to entrust his life to. It was a truly horrible death, but somehow, there was also something unsettlingly beautiful about it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a beautiful crucifixion before. I doubt I ever will again.

“I have no regrets about doing my duty, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite be at peace after seeing this. I pray that whatever gods there may be forgive me for my part in this man’s death.”

SEVENTH READING (Luke 23:50-56)

Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council. He was a good and righteous man. He hadn’t agreed with the plan and actions of the council. He was from the Jewish city of Arimathea and eagerly anticipated God’s kingdom. This man went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb carved out of the rock, in which no one had ever been buried. It was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment.


“I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I was so sure that all this confusion would get straightened out somehow. I was certain that God wouldn’t let an innocent man die, that the council would come to their senses in the end. But they didn’t. They wouldn’t listen to me. They were too afraid of this man, this Jesus. I’ll never understand why. No one deserves to die like that.

“I figured that whoever he was, whether messiah or madman, he didn’t deserve to have his body desecrated by wild animals. He was a man of God, someone trying to bring about God’s kingdom. He deserved to be honored for that, at least. I may not have been able to prevent his death, but I wanted to offer him what little dignity I could afterwards.

“The council didn’t care. As long as Jesus was out of their way, it didn’t matter to them what happened next. Pilate didn’t care. He seemed kind of bemused by everything that had happened; I think he was just glad it was over. Honestly, I can’t blame him – although his indifference cost a man his life. Anyway, no one tried to stop me when I took Jesus down from the cross. I’ll never forget the look on his face – it didn’t seem like it belonged with his battered and broken body. This face, a face that had been lined with exhaustion and grief for so long, seemed to have found peace in death. No one could threaten or hurt him anymore. I wept, not just for him, but for those who loved him, for those of us left behind. WE were still subject to this broken world, to humanity’s unimaginable cruelty.

“I did strangely find some solace in being left behind, though. Up until now, the women who loved Jesus had seen me as the enemy, a member of the council determined to murder their rabbi. But when they saw the care with which I lowered his body from the cross, the tenderness with which I wrapped it in linen, and the solemnity with which I laid it in the tomb, they realized that I was mourning, too. Maybe I didn’t have the right to share their sorrow; I don’t know. All I know is that they allowed space for my grief to exist alongside theirs. And for that, I was grateful.

“They say God can use all things for good, but I don’t know about that. I can’t see how anything good can come from this man being gone from the world. I suppose I just have to have faith in God’s plan. Even though I can’t imagine what it is. Someday, perhaps, I will know.”

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