Easter -- Keeping Vigil by the Cross: Good Friday Retreat

This service is imagined as a "vigil" or "wake": a time to watch faithfully with Jesus through the way of the cross, and to make connections between the suffering of Jesus and the suffering in our own lives and in the world. Inspiration comes from the Gospel stories themselves, which offer vignettes of ordinary people who interact with Jesus at the end. Often they are not named, and have not been mentioned before in the scriptures. They are called upon in Jesus' crisis and bear witness with compassion, service and truth-telling. There are many such people, and many such encounters in the four Passion narratives, but they may not come into focus if our attention is on the great sweep of the story. Several passages are listed below; there are others.

The service can be shaped according to the time available, the gifts of the leaders, and the resources at hand. It can be an hour's service on Good Friday evening, or it can be a full three hour-devotion on Good Friday afternoon . Artists, dancers, musicians in the community may be invited to shape one or more of the reflections; slide shows, PowerPoint presentations, videos may be created to tell stories of suffering and compassionate response. Notebooks and pens for journaling, or art materials of paint, clay, fabric may be made available to worshippers to enable them to reflect and create.

The service moves between periods of solitary reflection and meditation, and communal singing and praying.

Set up:

Keep sanctuary space as unadorned as possible.
Place simple wooden Cross somewhere central, within reach, inviting touch.
Baptismal font may be opened and filled with water.
Provide materials for journaling and for art.
If there is enough flexibility in the Sanctuary, different areas may be designated for different activities. For example, tables and chairs may be set for art materials or journaling; a screen may be set up with a continuous visual meditation showing; a place may be set aside for private conversation with pastoral staff.


In its Lent and Holy Week sections, numbers 189-229, The New Century Hymnal offers a variety of hymns with different theologies of the Cross represented. Make use of this richness, and choose hymns which vary the emphasis and mood throughout the vigil. You may wish to choose psalms from TNCH Psalter, beginning on page 617. Psalm 22 is traditionally prayed or chanted on Good Friday. Depending on the themes of each part of the service, other hymns, with themes of service, faith, etc. may be selected.


Invite the congregation to settle in. Acquaint them with the theme of the service, its expected flow, and a possible timeline. Point out the different areas in the sanctuary for praying, journaling, creating art. You may want to have the people gathered greet one another with a passing of the peace to acknowledge that this vigil takes place in community; all are in this together. Orient the congregation to the themes of Holy Week, including the events of Good Friday. What has this Holy Week brought to Jesus and his followers? To the congregation gathered? Acknowledge some of the feelings that this day often engenders.

Jesus invites prayer: Matthew 26: 36-41
Disciples in Gethsemane



Helping to bear the cross of Jesus: Luke 23:26
Simon of Cyrene

Reflection Questions

Who in my community needs help?

Simon did not volunteer; he was "made to" help.
When have I been burdened by someone else?

Simon's strength was needed;
what gifts do I have that are needed?


Weeping for the pain of Jesus: Luke 23: 27-28
Women of Jerusalem

Questions to Ponder

Grief is a hard feeling to bear. It tells me that pain and loss are real.

For whom, or for what, do I weep in my personal life?

In our community's life? In the life of our world?

Do I let myself feel grief, when I encounter situations of injustice?

Where does my grief lead me?
To more compassion? To try and help end the suffering?


Witnessing to the truth of Jesus' ministry: Luke 23: 39-41
The Repentant Thief

Questions to Ponder

The "good thief" was able to recognize that Jesus was innocent, and condemned to death unjustly.
He told the truth about it.

He recognized the goodness of Jesus' preaching, teaching and healing.
He told the truth about it.

What truths do I recognize these days?
Who needs to hear a word of truth from me?
Who needs a word of truth from our congregation?


Proclaiming our faith in Jesus: Luke 23:42-43
The Repentant Thief

Music Suggestion: Jesus, Remember Me, from Taizé: Songs for Prayer © GIA Publications
(sets the words of the thief to a repeating chant)

To ponder

At the moment of death,
the repentant thief offered words of faith in Jesus' reign, and Jesus responded, promising a future of life.
What can this mean for us?

Movement to the Cross and the Font

People may be invited to move to the Cross to make an offering of faith. They may leave there some of the prayers or the journal entries they have made, or the art they have created.

They may then gather at the Baptismal Font, where all in Baptism die with Christ to rise with Christ.

Invitation to Renewal of Faith

The people may be invited to renew their faith with the traditional words of the Apostles' Creed (or another creed or statement of faith known to the congregation; some are listed in The New Century Hymnal [numbers 881-887].

People may be invited to stay together at the font for the next reflection:

Entrusting our lives to one another by Jesus' Cross: John 19: 26-27
Beloved Disciple and Jesus' Mother

The Leader may invite the congregation:

Let us take a good look at the community gathered in vigil.
Let us take the hands of those standing or sitting near us.
Let us say together:

"Behold your sisters; behold your brothers."
and return to our seats.

The Death of Jesus: Mark 15: 33-39
The Centurion

Silent Prayer

Giving over all to the Sabbath: Luke 23: 50-56
Joseph of Arimathea

Invite the congregation to stay in the sanctuary and vigil as long as needed.

When they are ready to leave, invite them to go forth knowing that they are entrusting Jesus to God, to the transforming rest of the Sabbath.

A token of faith may be offered: a scripture passage, or a small stone representing the stone which will be rolled away on Easter morning.

Remind the congregation that all will gather again on Easter morning, to see what God has done for us in Jesus.


Keeping Vigil by the Cross was designed originally in 2007 for Archwood United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. The planners were The Rev. Dr. David Bahr, pastor; Susan Blain, Jane Brass, Wayne Brass, Ted Goodfleisch, Christy Trudo. This adaptation was done by Susan A. Blain, Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation, Worship and Education Ministry Team, LCM.

Copyright 2008 Local Church Ministries, Worship and Education Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.


Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115