Our Tears Have Become Our Bread: A Good Friday Evening Service of Lamentation

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A Note about Lamentation

Good Friday faces us with the death of Jesus on the cross of shame. We come to be near him in his suffering. We come also to lament the world’s sin and the fragmentation of our lives. Lamentation is an ancient form of prayer, crying out to God in the midst of senselessness, violence and confusion. It is a way to “hold God accountable,” even as we admit our complicity and helplessness. Lamentation does not contradict faith in God: it arises from the conviction that God wills life, not death; that God’s love is steadfast; and that God’s mercy is over all. We believe that God grieves with us, but we also admit that we do not understand God or ourselves, and so we express doubt, anger and desire for vindication, in God’s hearing. The Bible is full of lamentations. Jesus’ own lament, “Why have you abandoned me?”, echoes especially in our hearts tonight.

Gathering

Chant  Stay with me [Taize]

*Greeting

Beloved friends,

the peace of Christ be with you.

And on the whole world, peace.

In suffering love, our God draws near

to be with us in all our pain,

absorbing our unending tears,

the bitter food of every day.

Then let us pray tonight,

the best we can,

the hard prayers of lament,

the questions of bewildered faith,

the questions without answer.

*Prayer

O grieving God,

the suffering of the world

is gathered up tonight

in the broken body of Jesus,

our tender brother, who did no harm.

Give us the grace to cling to him,

and to share his meal of tears

at the table of the cross,

so that one day,

in the new world you are preparing,

we may share with him the feast of love

at your table of justice and joy.

We ask this in his name. Amen.

Readings and Responses

Reading   Luke 19: 41-42  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.

Silence

*Hymn When Jesus wept

Reading  Our Warring Madness

[Note: Here different voices read brief obituaries of US soldiers killed on the Good Fridays of 5 successive years of the Iraq War. In other years at this service, excerpts from soldiers’ letters home were set to recitative chant and sung by a cantor, with a people’s sung response: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Both these pieces may be provided upon request.]

Silence

*Prayer

Let us pray.

O silent God,

the web of human violence and death

is a terrible mystery.

We wonder if there is hope for us—

any hope at all, even in you.

Answer us, O God,

and by the tears of Jesus

keep our hearts safe and our hope alive,

as we lament our losses,

speak our anger and disappointment,

grieve our human folly,

and release our pain.

We pray in his name. Amen.

Reading  Mark 15: 25-37  Jesus is crucified.

Silence

*Hymn 201  They crucified my Lord

Ritual of Lamentation

Responsive Reading Psalm 42  My tears have become my bread.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I behold the face of God?

My tears have been my bread, day and night,

while people say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my helper.

By day the Lord commands God’s steadfast love,

and at night God’s song is with me,

a prayer to the Lord of my life.

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I walk about mournfully

because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise the Lord,

my help and my God.

Eating the Bread of Sorrow

 [A Note on the Ritual, for service planners:

The service takes place in a room with a round table at the center, chairs arranged in circular rows around it, aisles left open for access to the table and allow a good flow of movement. Bulletins for the service contain a slip of paper for the purpose of writing a personal lamentation. Pencils are at the seats.

On the center round table is a large clear glass bowl about full of water, two or three baskets with whole loaves of bread (challah was used for this service—it tears easily, picks up the salt well, and its sweetness provides a good contrast to saltiness), and two or three containers with mounds of ordinary table salt (a larger grained salt, such as sea salt, may also be used, although it is expensive). It is important that bread, water bowl, and salt be ample, large, visible—if possible use beautiful glass or ceramic containers, or expressive woven baskets. On a night of meager hope, abundant signs make all the difference.

Instructions for the ritual should be printed in the bulletin. A clear and concise verbal invitation and explanation—not of the ritual’s meaning so much as of the procedure to be followed—should also be given. It should be clear to all that one may decide not to participate: freedom should reign. [See sample written instructions below.]

When the ritual begins, people are invited to reflect on and write down a lament or other prayer for the world, the church, themselves—an expression of need or hope or of perplexity and question—then fold  the slip, come forward and deposit in the bowl of water—adding our tears to Jesus’ tears, as it were. They then approach ministers or other leaders who have been stationed in pairs—one with with bread, the other with salt—at two or three points in the room. They take a piece of bread and dip it in salt and return to their seats to await a common eating.

During this movement, music may be playing softly in the background. If there is a choir, a simple choral piece may be sung, but the music here should not overwhelm the ritual by calling too much attention to itself.

A note on wheat allergies: As with the celebration of holy communion, there should be a bread substitute available, if possible a gluten free bread (not a cracker). It should be on a dedicated plate or basket held by a third server in one of the serving groups. Make clear to people which station they should approach if they require a bread substitute.

At each station, the bread server says to each participant something like: “May the tears of Jesus feed us, and heal our suffering world.” The response is “Amen. When all have returned to their seats, the bread is blessed, and everyone eats the bread together. Then a hymn is sung.]

Participating in the Ritual

You are invited to write a brief expression of lament in solidarity with the suffering world. A slip of paper is provided. When you have finished, you may go to the table and place your lament in the large bowl of water, representing human grief and tears, including the tears of Jesus. A piece of bread will then be given to you, with the words, “May the tears of Jesus feed us, and heal our suffering world.” Please dip the bread in the salt that is also offered, then take it to your seat and wait. When all who wish to participate have returned to their seats, we will bless our laments and eat the salted bread of sorrow together.

Blessing

Holy spirit, come to us.

Bless this food of sorrow,

these morsels of pain.

Help us who taste in salted bread

the suffering of the world

become its healing and relief

by every deed of love and care

we offer in Christ’s name.

[The bread is eaten. Then all sing.]

Hymn  Bread of the world, in mercy broken

You may remain seated for the hymn.

The Good News of Consolation

Romans 8:18-39  Nothing separates us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

Silence

*Prayer

Let us pray.

Spirit of Life, thank you

for the healing power of the cross.

Thank you for not abandoning us in our sins.

Thank you for praying in us when,

in grief and anger,

we do not know how to pray.

Thank you for giving us the tears of Christ

who bears in his body our pain and the world’s.

Thank you for the life that is to come,

the new day on a new earth

when sorrow will be no more.

Hasten that day when lament will cease

and your love will be all in all.

Now, send us into the world in hope.

Make us your tender mercy

upon the world’s suffering,

wiping away every tear.

And do not leave us when the light wanes

and the road disappears,

but bring us through all our nights

to the clear shining of Easter.

We ask this, trusting you,

in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Blessing and Peace

Go now in peace.

Bear the weight of the cross

and the certain hope of resurrection

to all who yearn for life.

Amen.

Night and day,

may the blessing of God be upon us!

Amen.

* Hymn 335  Dona Nobis Pacem

*Greeting of Peace

The people are invited to share a sign of Christ’s peace, and leave quietly.

*[Note to worship leaders: * The asterisk indicates all the places where the people may stand. In this service all that is needed to get them to stand is example—the leaders should know when to stand and sit and do it decisively—and clear hand gestures. Try not to interrupt the flow of the service with constant invitations and instructions.]

Image:  Jame B. Janknegt, Crucifiction [sic] at Barton Creek Mall

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