Hey, it is GREAT that you got invited to be one of the preachers at your town’s ecumenical Good Friday service. I know it makes you nervous. Nerves are okay — in part it means you take preaching the Word seriously.
Preaching Good Friday
You mention that it makes you more nervous than your previous sermons because you’ve been given very limited time: just 5 minutes. That does make it harder in a way. How will you do what normally takes about 20 minutes in a quarter of that time?
At one time you signed up for my little online class “Your First Sermon — a Video Course.” I would recommend going through the videos and exercises again, knowing in advance what text you’ll be working on and what kind of service it will be part of. There may be questions about the context or purpose of this short meditation that you would want to talk through with your pastor. Or maybe not. That would be up to you — but it is often very helpful.
The kinds of study tasks that I recommend in the video would be just as useful when preaching Good Friday as in a regular sermon.
However, for this kind of service, you might want to spend some time reading all the different sections of the Gospels that will be read and spoken about in the service. That will give you a feeling for all the different moods that are captured in the stories of Good Friday.
Brainstorm other relevant texts
Plus you might want to brainstorm other passages to read that might help fill your mind with relevant biblical context.
For instance, if I was preaching about when Jesus says
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NRSV)
I might look back to Luke’s stories where God sent heavenly messages about his Son Jesus.
- The “Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38),
- Jesus’ baptism by John (Luke 3:21-22),
- and Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).
Having those stories in the back of my mind when speaking on that passage would give me a sense of Jesus’ intimate connection to his Father throughout his life, and the ways God called out to him — which seems relevant as he calls out and makes his final surrender to return to his Father.
Or if I was preaching on where Jesus says
It is finished” (John 19:30 NRSV)
I think I would look up some of the “beginnings” in Scripture.
- Genesis 1, “In the beginning…” of all creation.
- John 1, “In the beginning…” in reference to God the Word, who is God even before creation and is then incarnate as Jesus.
- Mark 1, “The beginning of the gospel…” where he jumps straight into the start of Jesus’ ministry.
In some sense, on the cross when Jesus says “It is finished” he’s referring to a journey that relates to these beginnings — something is “finished” on the cross, even though there is a lot more story before “the end” with a new heaven and new earth as at the end of Revelation. And what is “finished” on the cross makes the new heaven and new earth possible.
Study and meditate till you feel it
The more important thing with this kind of tiny meditation, however, is to spend enough prayerful time with your text so you not only think it but feel it. That way you can spend your five minutes talking about the things that bring a sense of the depth of emotion in Jesus, and the way his experience impacts us. (If you want a way to get into a text emotionally, see the chapter on Ignatius of Loyola’s “prayer of the senses” in my book Kneeling with Giants.)
Adapt your usual basic sermon plan
With a 5 minute limit, you should aim to have one full typed page, double-spaced, to bring to the pulpit. If you read that at a measured pace so everyone can follow along it will be about what you need. (You can find out by setting a five minute timer and reading aloud slowly from a recent sermon to see how far you get. Then you’ll know exactly how much typed material to plan to fit the five minute limit.)
If I were to adapt the sermon plan from my “Your First Sermon” class for a five minute meditation I would suggest something like this:
- 1/2 page: Retell the story of the text, emphasizing what you think Jesus must have been feeling physically and emotionally.
- 1/4 page: Talk more about the specific words Jesus spoke and the thoughts that have come up for you about those words through study and meditation.
- 1/4 page: Leave them with the questions that this text has brought up for you about your own faith and the nature of what Christ and his death mean for you.
In a meditation like this you aren’t trying to give the congregation answers or instructions.
You are thinking and feeling the story along with them — but with a head start.
You just need to lead them through the story and draw their attention to the deep places these events lead us to in our faith and our questions.
Let me know how it goes!
P.S. If you lost your link to the “Your First Sermon” course, here it is again.
If you, or someone you know, is nervous about speaking in a Good Friday service, please forward this post to them!
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