Facing shadows on Good Friday
By GWEN OREL
“Without the cross, there is no crown,” says the Rev. Campbell Singleton, of Union Baptist Church.
Good Friday, which falls this Friday, April 19, commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and His death. Jesus does not rise until Sunday morning. [Service times at end of article]
It is a somber holiday, in contrast to the pageantry of Palm Sunday and the celebrations of Easter Sunday.
It is not always as well attended as those two services, Montclair clergy say.
But, they add, to skip the observance is to miss out on what makes Easter Sunday transformative.
Good Friday is a reckoning with what it means to be human, said the Rev. Ann Ralosky,
who is in her 10th year as senior minister of First Congregational Church.
“Jesus represented a countercultural way of living which He called the kingdom of God, which was a direct contrast to the kingdom of Caesar,” she said.
“We are not at our best,” said the Rev. Melissa Hall, who is in her fifth year as rector of St. James Episcopal Church. “It’s not an easy day. We are the crowds yelling ‘crucify him.’ You have to say to yourself, where were you in that mob?”
She compared the time from noon, which is when Jesus was said to have been crucified, until 3 p.m., when Jesus is said to have died, to that of a family waiting outside an intensive care unit with a sick relative inside.
Hall was a nurse before she became a minister.
For Catholics, it’s the day to venerate the cross, said the Rev. A. Benny Prado, who is in his second year as pastor at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish. “During the time of Jesus, [crucifixion] was the most shameful and cruel death that anyone can receive,” Prado said.
“It’s raw, bloody, violent,” said Singleton, who has been pastor at Union Baptist for six years. “It brings the rawness of his humanity to me.” Union Baptist’s service includes the spirituals “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Were You There When They Buried Him in the Tomb,” among others.
“It’s a funeral, in essence,” Singleton said. The spirituals also reflect the agony of slavery: “We know about suffering and pain and grief and terrorism and violence, being charged guilty when we’re innocent, not having a fair trial. All of this reflects the black experience in America.”
Experiencing the story
One of the enduring rituals of Good Friday, for many denominations, is the Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 images depicting Jesus Christ from his condemnation through the day of his crucifixion.
It grew out of the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrows, the road pilgrims walked in Jerusalem, believed to be the path Jesus walked from the Garden of Gethsemane to Mount Calvary. A series of 14 images are arranged along a path and worshippers move from image to image, saying selected prayers along the way. Some churches offer this at different times during Lent, some only on Good Friday.
In Rome, the people lead the stations of the cross around the Colosseum, without images,
on Good Friday.
Prado, said in an email that the Stations of the Cross were created because not everyone could visit the Holy Land. In 1731, Prado wrote, Pope Clement XII established the 14 as they are known today.
“It’s a very nice tradition to remind us, each and every one, that we are walking that journey, walking in the footsteps of Christ,” he said. “As a priest, I feel that I am walking with Him. When I was a kid, in Nicaragua, we had processions outside, where they had the Stations of the Cross. Different homes would have different stations.
“Coming here it was a bit different, we do it inside, stations to stations, meditating, praying, on that journey Jesus had on the Via Dolorosa.
The Stations of the Cross at Immaculate Conception are small sculptures, he said.
At St. James, a children’s service which begins at 10 a.m. dramatizes the story, using seven stations. One of the children is picked to be Pontius Pilate, Hall said, and wears a cape and a crown.
“Then we read the description, and then we talk about the whole thing,” said Hall. Children relate to their own experiences of being judged, she said. At the station of the crucifixion, the kids are given a large nail and told to think about something they’ve done in the last year they aren’t proud of, or that was painful They then are told to hide the nail and leave it until Easter morning. And then on Easter, even before they get their Easter baskets, they find the nail and throw it out. “Because on Easter morning, Jesus is back, He’s resurrected, and everything is new. It’s like a redo.” First Congregational Church’s stations of the cross are contemporary photographs taken by the Maryknoll Brothers, an order of Catholic brothers who serve primarily in struggling and underdeveloped places worldwide. The Stations of the Cross are combined with FCC’s Labyrinth Walk on Wednesday evenings.
“They are photographs of contemporary experiences of suffering that mirror the stations of the cross. We have spiritual reflection that goes with each of them,” she said.
“It helps to take that story beyond a one-time event 2,000 years ago and make the connection again and again that unjust human suffering exists, and God is with us in enduring it,” she said.
The 8 p.m. service at FCC on Good Friday begins outside the church, with everyone holding
lit candles. Inside the sanctuary, this year, the candles will be put at the foot of a sculpture by Charles McCullough of Christ on the cross.
Union Baptist does not present Stations of the Cross. Instead, the church holds a seven word sermon: seven different preachers will give short talks based on the last seven things Jesus said: “It is finished.” “Today this day, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The ministers who will talk are Mark Beckett, Jeffrey Grayson, Betty Thomas, Peggy Thompson, Jessie Branson, Sherlita McCann and Andrew Johnson.
“It is a service very popular in the black church tradition,” Singleton said. The service begins at 10 a.m. Paramens, drapes in the church, are changed from purple on Maundy Thursday, to black. As at FCC, the congregation blows out the candles.
On Easter Sunday the paramens will be white again.
The pageantry and symbols communicate the mood, Singleton said.
Darkness before light
Hall said that at on Good Friday she always has “a palpable sense that the house is empty. God has left the building.”
Still, she finds light in this darkness in the way Jesus stood for His convictions, despite knowing the Romans would kill him. “He believed in a radical hospitality, a radical love,” Hall said. “That’s an important message for everyone nowadays, because we are confronted every day, every day, with decisions to make, about how we are going to behave, how we are going to treat our neighbor. Who’s our neighbor?”
Ralosky said she is very affected by the Good Friday service.
“It’s hateful for me to put myself in with the crowd that is screaming for His death,” she said. But looking at that shadow side of her experiences puts her in touch with seeing the humanity in others. Easter, which is about hope rising in the world, loses its power “if you don’t dare to experience that darkness yourself,” she said.
Prado stressed that the death of Jesus is a reminder of the “love that He poured out on that day. For me, for us Christians, the Resurrection is what awaits. Jesus conquered death. It gives a new way for us.”
And Good Friday’s darkness puts a brighter future in relief, Singleton said. “It tells us, this is not going to end this way.
“We are going to get the victory.”
GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE TIMES
Union Baptist Church, 12-14 Midland Ave.
Friday, April 19, 10 a.m.; ubcmontclair.org
St. James Episcopal Church, 581 Valley Road
Friday, April 19, 10 a.m. Children’s Interactive Stations of the Cross
12 p.m. Passion service and quiet meditation with seven last words
7:30 p.m. Good Friday choral service
First Congregational Church, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Stations of the Cross, Wednesday, April 19, with labyrinth walk, 6-8 p.m.
Friday, April 19, Good Friday service, 8 p.m.
St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 94 Pine St.
Stations of the Cross, Wednesday, April 17, 1 p.m.
Friday, April 19, Good Friday services, 9 a.m.
Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church
30 North Fullerton Ave.
Stations of the Cross, Friday, April 19, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 19, service of the Lord’s passion, 4 p.m.,
Youth Stations of the Cross (all invited) 7:30 p.m.