I know, I’m behind on blogging. Good Friday was almost two weeks ago and I’m just now getting around to writing this. Trust me, I’m not backtracking just to bore you. I want to tell you about the Good Friday Experience that my church puts together every year.
What’s that, you ask? Um…. well, there is no easy way to explain it. You just have to experience it. Yeah, that doesn’t do much for you, does it? Let me try again: It’s an interactive way of bringing you into the Easter story. There were a bunch of stations set up throughout the church. Each station had signs that told a bit about the Good Friday story and Jesus’ life (and death), and there was some sort of prop or interactive item at each table to make the story more real.
Whew… I feel like I used a bunch of big words there and didn’t quite capture the idea.
My first Experience at church was the Thanksgiving Experience in 2008, then the Good Friday Experience in 2009. Last year’s Good Friday Experience pushed me over the edge in my walk with Jesus. I had been holding back and trying not to be so vulnerable in my faith because of fear and pain and all that nasty garbage. But last year’s Good Friday Experience changed everything for me. I went the night before Good Friday, and gave myself completely to Jesus. It inspired me to write this the next day.
I loved the Experiences so much and wanted to get involved in planning them. I helped with guest relations this past Thanksgiving, then finally joined the team in January. I can’t begin to tell you what a joy it was for me to be on the team and plan this Good Friday Experience. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I did much besides sit back and watch some incredibly creative minds whir and spin. Then the week of Good Friday, a blur of activity began. We set up the stations at two different church locations, then opened it to the public that Thursday night. That’s when my heart broke open and took me completely by surprise. Before I go into all of that, let me show you what the Experience looked like.
This Good Friday Experience centered around all of the people who were at the cross with Jesus, or were major players in putting Him on it. The first part of the Experience gave you the chance to see the entire Passion of the Christ movie. Then there was an art show with sculpture, photographs and paintings that depicted any number of things: new starts, desolation, gossip, sunsets, blooms, community.
Throughout the art show and the entire Experience, there were also rocks and bricks scattered about with Scripture written on them. One brick would have the Old Testament prophecy about Jesus, then a nearby brick would show how that was fulfilled in the New Testament. You walked through the art and the first station you came to signified Palm Sunday and the crowd that was there to cheer Jesus and welcome him to Jerusalem. You were invited to pick up a palm branch and wave it, and think about what thousands of them sounded like on the first Palm Sunday.
The next station focused on Judas in comparison to the widow who gave the small mite she had to Jesus. Judas accepted payment to betray Jesus, and the widow gave everything she had to honor Him. This station invited you to take a penny from a bowl and think about how you trust God with your life. If you are willing to trust Him, you can throw the penny into an urn. If you aren’t trusting Him just yet, hold on to the penny and let it remind you to start the journey of trusting Him.
At Peter’s station, the sign asked you to roll up your sleeves and put your hands in a pot full of water. You must then try to push all the water from one side of the pot to the other. Can you control the water? Peter tried to control so many things in the Bible. He cut off Malchus’ ear when the guards came to take Jesus away, and was ready to take matters into his own hands. The question at this station is: do you keep the decisions and trajectory of your life in your own hands? Are you willing to consider placing them in the hands of God?
You walk from Peter’s station into a station dedicated to Malchus. He was one of the sold iers who came to capture Jesus, and instead walked away healed by Him. This station gave everyone a chance to ask for healing by writing it on a piece of paper and putting it into a chalice. The papers were later prayed over by our church prayer team.
The next station was actually a set of many different stations. It was the station devoted to Jesus and His crucifixion. There were detailed drawings of how flogging and crucifixion affects a body, interactive places where you could pick up a cross piece to give you an idea of what Jesus carried, and touch sand to imagine what Jesus felt when walking on hot shards of rock.
One station focused on the soldiers who were at the base of the cross waiting for Jesus to die, throwing dice to try and win Jesus’ clothes. You could pick up handmade clay dice to feel what it might be like to cast lots for Jesus’ robe.
Then you come upon a station with an immense curtain tied to the church’s ceiling. It has been split in half. This station signifies God the Father, who was – of course – present at His son’s death. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Jewish temple was split in half. Jesus’ death frees us all to approach God directly, instead of having someone else intercede for us. At this station, you could take a piece of fabric from the curtain to help you remember how Jesus gave us direct access to God.
Another station in this section was devoted to the Roman Centurion at the base of Jesus’ cross and the thief on the cross next to Jesus. One was upholding the law while the other was being punished for breaking it. You were asked to take a card from one of two baskets labeled “Centurion” or “Thief.” The baskets held the same cards, because the point is no matter whether you follow the rules or not, you still need grace. The cards had a cross printed on them, with a blank line where you could write your name. There were also red ink pads on the table so you could put your own thumbprint on the card to signify that Christ died for you. One of the most moving things about this station is that for the rest of the Experience – and maybe even until Easter – you got to walk around with a red finger to remind you of the blood that was shed for you.
The last station in this section was a five minute video that focused on Mary, Jesus’ mother. It showed movie clips to demonstrate what it must have been like to have Mary watch her son die. The same little boy who used to run to her when he scraped his knee was now dying on a cross. This video was gut-wrenching to watch as you imagined the pain and loss Mary felt.
You leave the video room and go into the church auditorium. The lights are down low, and there is music playing softly. A video is playing, showing one single line as it forms into the entire Good Friday story with changing shapes. There is a station where you pick up a letter from God to you. Find a seat to sit down and read it. Here’s the front and back sides of the letter.
After you read the letter, there is a communion station with the word “You” at the top of the sign. Even before you were born, Jesus hung on the cross for you. You were there, in God’s plan even long ago. You are invited to hammer a nail in the cross then kneel and take communion.
The last station was also in the auditorium, and it focused on Nicodemus. He’s the man who came to question Jesus in John 3, and came in the dark because he was afraid that people might see him talking to Jesus. After Jesus died, Nicodemus came forward in the light to help Joseph of Arimathea bury the body. There was a basket of electric candles and a big mirrored box, and you were asked to take a candle and light it as a way to signify Christ’s light shining in your life. Everyone put their candles into the mirrored box, and this is how it looked at the end of Friday night.
Now… do the photos and descriptions help you better understand the Experience? I hope so. Now let me explain why my heart was broken open during this Experience.
I went into Thursday night thinking I’d need to stand around and help restock paper towels and pens and ink pads, and maybe light a few candles. I was focused on the little details. (Nah, that doesn’t sound a BIT like me, does it?) At one point, I went into the auditorium where communion was being served, and checked on another team mate to see if she needed a break. She was monitoring the communion supplies and candles and crowd flow. She didn’t need a break, so I settled in to a seat to watch for a few moments. I didn’t leave for an hour and a half. I watched people come into the auditorium, after they had just left the video at the Mary station. I watched people read the letter from God, then I watched them humble themselves and kneel in front of the cross and hammer nails. I watched them take communion, and I watched them shed tears of humility and love. I started praying for each one of those people, and then started crying. I don’t know why, except that I was so moved by the emotions flowing out of believers and non-believers. I truly lost control of my emotions when I watched a mom and dad come through with their little children. The parents read the signs to the kids and tenderly gave them communion. When the father held the communion cup to his daughter’s lips so she could drink, I stopped breathing. I imagined myself as that little girl, basking in the love of her Father who is offering the most precious gift: salvation. That moment will stay frozen in my memory for the rest of my life.
When it was time for me to leave the auditorium later that night, I was an emotional wreck. I witnessed some extremely personal stories and saw grown men weep like children at the foot of the cross. I was touched beyond words, and so very grateful that I got the privilege of being on the Good Friday Experience team.