from Friday, April 6, 2012~
Yesterday was Good Friday. The commemoration of the day and event has been widespread since at least the 4th century (documented by Egeria). What is being commemorated is basically what happened to Jesus once the Jewish leaders turned Him over to the Romans as a troublemaker.* This is recorded in all 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John- click on the book to read the account).
Within each Christian sect these events* are celebrated differently. The Catholic church observes the most elaborately. In that group, Good Friday worship services often begin in the afternoon at 3:00 pm (traditionally the time that Jesus may have died). That can consists of the singing (or preaching) of the Passion of St. John's gospel. The Veneration of the Cross is also common. This is when Christians approach a wooden cross (or crucifix) and kneel before it and/or kiss part of it. In addition to these traditions, Holy Communion is practiced. In the Latin Rite of the Catholic church, no masses are said on Good Friday. Good Friday is an official fast day (no food) of the Catholic Church. Many churches (both Catholic and Protestant) also offer the Stations of the Cross.
My church holds an afternoon service. Within that service we sing songs having to do with the crucifixion. Then we read the Biblical account of the crucifixion. Sometimes there is a short sermon. After that we spend some time in quiet reflection before partaking in communion. We end the service in song. Families are encouraged to do object lessons together. A popular one is always resurrection cookies. (Recipe & instructions found here.) We made a tomb and hill diorama then we did a simple (age appropriate) explanation of the event and then sealed a Jesus figure in the tomb. When we open it Sunday morning, the figure will be gone. (Instructions here.) In the past we've done a stations of the cross sort of thing, but it's been a few years.
Wikipedia actually has a pretty detailed Good Friday account posted with lots of scripture and even more detail about customs all around the world.
*I don't want to be overly graphic, but I think we all are aware of the brutality of the Roman Empire. I've included links if you want more detail. The first thing the Romans did was to strip Jesus naked and flog Him with a whip containing metal components, razor-sharp bones or hooks and lead balls. Flogging sometimes killed, but it always severely weakened the victim. The soldiers then commenced with the psychological torture: throwing a scarlet robe across His shoulders, making Him hold a scepter, and pressing a sharp thorn crown deep into His scalp. They screamed at and made fun of Him, they took the scepter out of His hand, and repeatedly struck Him on the head. Jesus then was in critical condition. A heavy wooden beam was thrust upon Christ’s battered body and He was led away to a place called Golgotha to be crucified.There Jesus was literally nailed to a wooden cross. Historically Romans used thick iron spikes driven through the wrists and ankles. The body would hang from the nails in a way that breathing became difficult as the person would have to push their body upward to grasp small gulps of air. The Roman system of crucifixion was intended to inflict maximum pain. Jesus would have experienced cycles of joint-wrenching cramps, intermittent asphyxiation, and excruciating pain as His lacerated back moved up and down against the rough timber of the cross. (In fact, the word excruciating (literally “out of the cross”) had to be invented to fully capture its horror.) As Jesus felt the end approaching, He was said to cry out, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?–––which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””† and then gave up His spirit. There was darkness and an earthquake large enough to break open sealed tombs. A follower of Jesus asked the Roman rulers to bury Jesus body. A short time later, a Roman legionnaire drove his spear through Jesus' ribs and into his heart to make sure He is dead. Jesus body is then taken and wrapped in a linen shroud and treated according to Jewish traditions and left in a sealed and guarded tomb.
†This is significant to the Christian because we believe that Jesus lived a perfect life but then allowed Himself this death to pay for all the wrongdoing of humanity. We believe God is just and holy and so He cannot tolerate evil and rebellion. When Jesus took on the sins of the world, God had to turn His back on Him.