During the season of Lent, I am leading a group study on baptism and the triduum at the Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy in New York City. We meet on Wednesday nights in English and Thursday nights in Spanish. I am only posting the English handouts on the blog, but can provide Spanish translations on request.
Week 3: Wednesday, March 26
The Space Between: Good Friday
The Good Friday liturgy is simply a reading of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, followed by prayers, followed by anthems and the veneration of the cross. “The service has no formal entrance rite and no blessing or dismissal: since the church began it’s Triduum celebration on Thursday evening, the Good Friday liturgy is simply a gathering together or a focused offering of prayer at a particular moment in the course of the three days.”
Story: Egeria is a Galician woman who made several pilgrimages to Jerusalem and kept precise journals, giving us an idea of early church practices:
“The pilgrim Egeria gives us the first evidence of special rites to mark the day in her description of the Good Friday rites in Jerusalem about A. D. 381-384. From eight o’clock in the morning until noon, the wood and superscription of the supposed true cross were exposed on a linen-covered table at the site of the crucifixion in the courtyard behind the Martyrium, the great church built by Constantine’s mother Helen. There the faithful came to venerate them as the bishop held his hands firmly on the cross while the deacons stood guard. At noon the people assemble in the courtyard for a service of psalms, lections, hymns, and prayers which lasted until three o’clock. They then moved into the church for a service and afterward to the tomb where the Johannine account of the burial was read (Jn. 19:38-42). A voluntary vigil at the tomb continued through the night. After a time other churches acquired portions of the true cross and conducted rites similar to those performed in Jerusalem. Eventually veneration of a cross became a practice in churches which did not possess any piece of the true cross.”
- What purpose does the cross serve in Egeria’s time? In ours?
- The veneration of the cross is optional. The Prayer Book states, “If desired, a wooden cross may now be brought into the church and placed in the sight of the people.” Our church chooses to share in this practice—why?
- Does the cross mean something different on Good Friday than it does on Easter?
“The Christian’s participation in Jesus’ death in baptism is also a participation in his resurrection (Rom 6:5)…Baptism orients us to a future that does not end in death even while it initiates us into a cruciform pattern of life. This was Christ’s path to the resurrection, and thus it is also ours.”
- Christ cannot be resurrected without first dying on the cross. We can’t celebrate Easter without first observing Good Friday.
- Is the cross a symbol of death? Or victory? Or…?
Jeffrey D. Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999), 89.
Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1995), 232.
 Church Publishing, Book of Common Prayer Chapel Edition: Red Hardcover (Unknown: CHURCH PUBLISHING INC, 1979), 281.
 Susan K. Wood, One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 8.