Since my youth, history has always been of particular interest to me. Individuals or organizations who provide a daily listing of historic events in the form of a “on this day in history” typically receive my attention. With the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in France this particular week will no doubt result in 2019 being added to those future lists of historic events. Yet, from a liturgical perspective, this week on the calendar will always be one of significance, since the week prior to Easter has long been associated as a week focusing attention on the specific activities associated with each day of the week leading up to the actual death and resurrection of Christ. Many churches emphasize a sort of “on this day in history” approach to observing the events leading up Christ’s death and resurrection. Good Friday and Easter morning are filled with the gathering of the local church for corporate worship, with some churches still including a Thursday evening service, intended to focus on the upper room activities, particularly the institution of the Lord’s Table.
Commemorating these historic events, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter can certainly be a helpful method of rightly emphasizing the focus of this week on Christ. Yet, there is also a danger associated with this practice if the intent is to somehow recreate the feelings or sentiments associated with that event. As a child growing up in a Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) church, the end of the Good Friday service typically involved the pastor instructing the congregation to leave the church with a sober spirit as if to be mourning a dead Jesus lying in a tomb with the hope of a resurrection in three days on Easter morning. A good intent, but perhaps not the best in practice, since nothing could be more confusing to a child or an unbelieving visitor to the church.
In essence, this practice creates the decoupling of a historical event in the life of Christ with the present reality of a risen Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father (Col 3:1; Heb 8:1). During the week of Easter we do not worship a Jesus who is, at present, riding a colt into Jerusalem or teaching in an upper room or lying in a tomb, but a risen Christ who resides in heaven. It is right and good to recognize, learn and apply the significance of these events, for they are a part of God’s inerrant, infallible Word, but we should not seek to recreate the sentiments of those who were living in that time by forgetting that which we know to be true today.
When you preach this Good Friday, don’t leave Jesus lying in a tomb in anticipation of a resurrection message on Sunday that everyone present will hear. We are called to preach a good news message of a risen Savior all the time, not a sad news message of a dead Jesus. For some people the Good Friday service might be the only message of salvation they hear. They do not need to hear a story ending with a defeated man inside a tomb, but a risen Savior who was is fully God and fully Man, now interceding for us before the Father (Heb 7:25) . This week we are not mourning a Christ paying the penalty for sin, but a Christ who already paid the penalty for sin. Preach a full gospel on Good Friday and let people leave church worshipping a risen Savior. Still not convinced? Ask yourself what kind of sermon Peter would have preached on Good Friday.