This evening at 6 pm, our church will continue our tradition of 'experimental worship' by adapting a Good Friday service that has come down to us from the early church. Our practice tonite will feature the cross in the center, all speakers and pray-ers to the side, frequent moments of silent prayer and meditation, and all accapella hymns (the picture is from rehearsal - it sounded like a sacred, beautiful episode of Glee).
Many Lenten practices spring from medieval European Catholic roots. But a Seven Last Words service is documented as much earlier. In the early church, devotions were held during the three hours Christ hung on the cross, from twelve noon to three o'clock. Records of this devotion are primarily available in the writings of Egeria, a woman who travelled from Gaul (France) in 381 on pilgrimmage to Jerusalem and chronicled this experience on Good Friday.
This form of devotion did not survive into a traditional devotion of the church, as did other Lenten practices. In the late seventeenth century, the idea of the ancient church observing three hours of devotion during the time Jesus hung on the cross was revived in Peru. This service has since been adopted by many Catholic and Protestant churches.
The content of the service consists of a reflection on the last seven words of Jesus. Usually a brief order of Scripture reading, sermon, and prayer are offered around each of Jesus' last words on the cross. A period of silence is maintained between each cycle so that people may reflect on the meaning of he words. When the service lasts the whole three hours, people are free to come and go between the words rather than stay for all seven of them. Our service will last 60-70 minutes, with each 'sermon' being a two to three minute homily.
When we finish, I will invite folks to choose an Easter fast. Fasting from all but water (absolute) or eating vegetables only (partial), we identify with Jesus' sacrifice and self-denial for the sake of God's glory and our salvation. We will break-fast Easter morning, prepared to feast and satisfy our souls in the risen Christ in worship, then celebrate with our own Easter feast over lunch.
Ever since we began applying our impulse to be ancient/future worshippers to preparing for Easter, my experience and worship of Christ during this time has grown tremendously. I pray your Easter brings you closer to Christ in thought, word, and deed. (Information on the Good Friday service adapted from Robert Weber, Services of the Christian Year).
Lake Forest Church