Hymns for Good Friday

Last year, our family joined a church that observes the church calendar and uses traditional liturgy in its worship. During Advent, I was able to contribute a new hymn to the church’s worship, and tonight, during our Tenebrae service, we’ll be singing two of the Good Friday hymns I wrote for my master’s thesis. You can download the full set here.

Early in the service, the congregation will sing “The Second Word: The Song of the Thief.” The hymns follow the story of the crucifixion, and several of them are written from the perspective of one or more of the participants. In this case, it is the thief on the cross next to Jesus, who is struggling to understand how Jesus can promise him Paradise while dying on the cross.

The Second Word: The Song of the Thief
Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Tune: HYFRYDOL (87.87 D)

Dying dreams are easy making; 
Harder made is Roman rule.
Crucifixion joins our futures –
Me a rebel, you a fool.
Give your words a solid substance: 
Rescue me and raise the sword. 
Blessings, honor, power, and glory! 
Take your throne and rule as Lord.

What Messiah dies so weakly, 
Losing all for abstract gain?
Have our hopes become so empty?
Where is God within such pain?
One mere word can change creation,
Heal, and work in mighty deeds.
Strength renounced, exchanged for suffering: 
Is this where your gospel leads?

Paradise retreats from sinners, 
Cursed, condemned, then crucified. 
Jew and Gentile mock your mercy.
Can your hope be justified?
Lord, remember me tomorrow,
If your words are more than breath. 
Claim, redeem, reveal your kingdom 
From the silent tomb of death.

Later in the service, as the lights dim and we move closer to the moment of Jesus’ death, the choir will sing “The Fifth Word.” This is based on the disciples’ confusion at their Lord’s suffering.

The Fifth Word
I thirst.
Tune: LOVE UNKNOWN (66.66.4444)
He thirsts and soon will die 
    Upon this bitter throne.
No drink can satisfy:
    He thirsts for God alone.
        His suffering, 
            Our misery:
        How can he be 
            Our holy king?
Forsaken by his friends 
    Before his greatest need,
A single soldier lends
    Some wine – small grace indeed.
        Is God near by 
            Or far away?
        How could we pray 
            If he should die?

Where can he find relief?
    He sees just hateful eyes.
Acquainted with all grief, 
    The man of sorrows dies.
        How can this be? 
            What has he done? 
        Does anyone
            Win victory?
This is our Lord and King, 
    In weakness glorified.
In weakness therefore sing 
    Because with him we died.
        Let us take up
            Our Saviour’s cross, 
        And through our loss
            Partake his cup.

Singing these hymns as part of a full congregation will be a different experience for me. I’m looking forward to it, though also a bit nervous. Whether you worship in a liturgical church or not, I hope these hymns will help you observe Good Friday.

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