April 10, 2020





Life and death stand side by side as we enter into Good Friday. In John’s passion account, Jesus reveals the power and glory of God, even as he is put on trial and sentenced to death. Standing with the disciples at the foot of the cross, we pray for the whole world in the ancient bidding prayer, as Christ’s death offers life to all. We gather in solemn devotion, but always with the promise that the tree around which we assemble is indeed a tree of life



Holy One, speak to us again as we read of the suffering and death of Jesus.  May we hear your Word above the shouts of the crowd, and hearing, may we follow faithfully, even to the cross.  We pray in the name of Jesus, who died for us.  Amen.


Readings and Psalm

Isaiah 52:13–53:12:  The suffering servant

The fourth servant poem promises ultimate vindication for the servant, who made his life an offering for sin. The servant pours himself out to death and is numbered with the transgressors, images that the early church saw as important keys for understanding the death of Jesus.

Psalm 22:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Ps. 22:1)

Hebrews 10:16-25:  The way to God is opened by Jesus’ death

In the death of Jesus, forgiveness of sins is accomplished and access to God is established. Hence, when we gather together for worship and when we love others, we experience anew the benefits of Jesus’ death.

John 18:1–19:42:  The passion and death of Christ

On Good Friday, the story of Jesus’ passion—from his arrest to his burial—is read in its entirety from the Gospel of John.



“Exit, pursued by a bear.” 1

From out of nowhere, at the height of great sadness, profound sorrow and cosmic sympathy in Shakespeare’s play, A Winter’s Tale, comes this bizarre stage direction.  Suddenly, the audience is moved with breakneck speed from a tragedy into a comedy!

Up to this point, in Act III, there is great sadness over the false accusation of Hermione’s infidelity; profound sorrow over the impending murder of the infant, Perdita; the sounds of a violent storm that rails in sympathy with the human emotions that run amok across the land.  And then…”Exit, pursued by a bear”, as Antigonus runs screaming for his life off the stage chased by some actor in an ursus costume!  As an audience member, it would catch one off guard and no doubt a chuckle, if not an actual guffaw, would burst from the lips in surprise!

But this is Good Friday, not some Shakespearean play!  One cannot compare the two!  This is the day Jesus dies on the cross!  This is no laughing matter, there is no bizarre stage direction here to turn this into a comedy!  Perhaps – yet we are still in the middle of Act III.  The unexpected can still happen.  This is the critical act, the turning point, the climax.  We are held within Act III until sundown.  There is no point anticipating Act V.  That is two days away.  So, we need to explore the situation within its context in antiquity and as the crucial act in this, what has been called, The Divine Drama

When it comes to the writer of John’s gospel, expect the unexpected.  Throughout this gospel Jesus is in control.  Always.  Jesus also has power in John’s gospel.  If you don’t believe there is more than sorrow in this story, look again.  While not definitively stated, the number of soldiers who come to collect Jesus is around 500 – the number of a Roman cohort.  Is it really necessary to bring 500 soldiers to arrest one man?  And then, when Jesus affirms that he is the one for whom they are seeking, it is as if a nuclear bomb goes off and 500 men suddenly drop to the ground from the force of the explosion!  As we read this text, see the drama play out in our minds, we are, in this instant, taken out of our sorrow and thrown into a collective “WOW!” as a few words from Jesus overpowers military force.

In his conversations with Annas and Caiaphas, notice that Jesus responds with assertiveness.  When Jesus is sent to Pilate, we see that Jesus has embraced his calling from God and is ready to face a brutal death.  Jesus does not display fear.  Crucifixion was a brutal way to die.  Most would probably be weeping upon hearing the sentence.  Not Jesus.  After being flogged, he still has the strength to carry his own crossbeam and determine his moment to die.  Through his relationship with God, Jesus draws the strength to live out his purpose.  He may be in physical agony; he is also in control of the situation.  Now that’s power!

The purpose of crucifixion in antiquity was to shame and humiliate the victim.  Contrary to all the artwork you may have seen of Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus wore no loincloth.  He was totally naked as he hung there, slowly suffocating, in agony.  Yet even then, he had the compassion and presence of mind to look after his mother. 

There are no mocking crowds in John’s gospel.  We know they were there.  Crucifixion was deliberately done where the population could see it and be warned.  To be naked, strung up on a cross and on public display was the ultimate in humiliation.  In the gospel of John, Jesus’ humiliation is not at issue.  Jesus’ power, his intimate relationship with God, his trust and courage to do what needs to be done is what matters.  Once again, the reader and listener are taken out of their sorrow to join in a collective, awe-inspired “wow” as Jesus rises above public humiliation to connect with God and fulfill his purpose.  The Sanhedrin, Pilate and the cruelty of Rome could not break the spirit of the One to bring all people into God’s love and forgiveness.

“Exit, pursued by a bear.”


Historians and critics may argue over the interpretation of the stage direction, but the tonal shift is about so much more than the stage direction itself. The bear is random and scary just as life can be random and scary. One moment all seems stable, but in the very next moment it may seem like everything has been turned upside down. It’s silly to even begin to categorize events into tragedy and comedy as they blend together so often. It’s difficult for the bereaved not to laugh in a funeral home when recalling a fond memory with a loved one, and it can be difficult not to weep at a joke that rings particularly true. In life, there is horror, there is laughter, and there is sorrow, but they seldom travel alone. They come together as a package deal in nearly every situation, and it is up to the individual to devote time and energy to the emotion of their choosing. There is no event or emotion that can be put into a box unless the label on the box simply reads “life”.2

Perhaps this is why the salvation story has been called The Divine Drama.    For what is Drama but a slice of life.

Until Act V…


1Shakespeare, William.  A Winter’s Tale.   Act III, scene iii, line 64.
2From the website literatureessaysamples.com:  Exit, Pursued by Bear: The Implications of an Infamous Stage Direction.



Prayers of Intercession:  Bidding Prayer

Silence for prayer follows each bid.

Let us pray, brothers and sisters, for the holy church throughout the world.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you have shown your glory to all nations in Jesus Christ.

By your Holy Spirit guide the church and gather it throughout the world.  Help it to persevere in faith, proclaim your name, and bring the good news of salvation in Christ to all people.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for the United Church of Canada Moderator, Richard Bott; Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Susan Johnson; our Synodical Bishop, Jason Zinko; Pastor Leslie, all servants of the church, and for all the people of God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, your Spirit guides the church and makes it holy.  Strengthen and uphold our bishops, pastors, other ministers, and lay leaders.  Keep them in health and safety for the good of the church, and help each of us in our various vocations to do faithfully the work to which you have called us.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for those preparing for baptism.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you continue to bless the church.  Increase the faith and understanding of those preparing for baptism.  Give them new birth as your children, and keep them in the faith and communion of your holy church.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for our sisters and brothers who share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you give your church unity.  Look with favor on all who follow Jesus your Son.  Make all the baptized one in the fullness of faith, and keep us united in the fellowship of love.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and Sarah, and your teaching to Moses.  Hear our prayers that the people you called and elected as your own may receive the fulfillment of the covenant’s promises.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, gather into your embrace all those who call out to you under different names.

Bring an end to inter-religious strife, and make us more faithful witnesses of the love made known to us in your Son.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for those who do not believe in God.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you created humanity so that all may long to know you and find peace in you.  Grant that all may recognize the signs of your love and grace in the world and in the lives of Christians, and gladly acknowledge you as the one true God.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for God’s creation.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you are the creator of a magnificent universe.  Hold all the worlds in the arms of your care and bring all things to fulfillment in you.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for those who serve in public office.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you are the champion of the poor and oppressed.  In your goodness, give wisdom to those in authority, so that all people may enjoy justice, peace, freedom, and a share in the goodness of your creation.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let us pray for those in need.

Silent prayer.

Almighty and eternal God, you give strength to the weary and new courage to those who have lost heart.  Heal the sick, comfort the dying, give safety to travelers, free those unjustly deprived of liberty, and deliver your world from falsehood, hunger, and disease.  Hear the prayers of all who call on you in any trouble, that they may have the joy of receiving your help in their need.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Finally, let us pray for all those things for which our Lord would have us ask.




Our worship continues Easter Sunday morning…


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