What do portishead, arcade fire and herbie hancock have to do with good friday?

For the past 15 years, I have been creating experimental liturgies for Good Friday.  Not only to explore theologies beyond the medieval substitutionary atonement poetry and music that tends to dominate this holy day, but also to find new ways of telling the old, old story for this generation.  This experiment began in Cleveland when I noticed that a crowd of revelers was carrying on with great abandon at a local alt music venue while only 4 people showed up for our Taize meditation around the Cross.

Now let's be honest, at first I was offended and shocked that people would boogie and get trashed on Good Friday - but that just spoke to how sheltered I was in my spiritualized ghetto.  Why should Good Friday in 21st century American be any different than when Jesus was first nailed to the Cross:  few people noticed or cared then either, right?  So when I got over myself (and it took a little time and confession) I started to wonder: if the old ways of gathering around the Cross aren't communicating the deepest and most important truths of the faith, what else might work?  What, for example, might capture the attention of a hipster who has run out of gas at the bar scene?  Or a single mom (or anyone other lonely soul, for that matter) who has become tired of looking for love in all the wrong places?  What about those who regular come to Sunday worship but avoid Good Friday like the plague?  Our youth?  Those on the fringe?

When we got to Tucson, we tried some more Taize times - and those had a more healing and open groove than the traditional worship.  But they still felt incomplete - so when I first heard about the U2charist - using the music of U2 to create a communion liturgy - I wondered if we might be able to do something similar with the so-called "seven last words of Jesus."  What a great chance to jump back into this great music - and find the work of those who have been exploring U2 spirituality for some time - and learn it for our church band.  We wound up using some traditional scripture mixed with God: Part II, I Still Haven't Found what I'm Looking For, With or Without You, Love Rescued Me and When Love Comes to Town - and afterwards all bets were off.

We created one Good Friday liturgy based on lament and the blues - another on the face of Jesus in the Iraq War - finding poetry and scripture that made things pop.  And when we arrived in the Berkshires, I knew this was one emerging liturgical experiment that I needed to continue - and we have.  This year's theme - disorientation - is grounded in the words of the Easter Vigil exsultet - o happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam - which gained for us so great a Redeemer!   For me the theology of this night comes from the Paschal Mystery that God can create good from out of the worst suffering for those who look to the Lord and love God.  St. Paul says as much in Romans 8 and the whole arc of the Good Friday/Easter story points to the inextricable tension alive in our pain and God's grace.
So this year we're going to start off with the music of the Cure in their reworking of the Jimi Hendrix classic:  Purple Haze - but we'll add the prayer of the exultet over the top - before winding up with Antonio Machado's poem:  Last Night As I Lay Sleeping.  There will also be our take on "Mad World" and an apocalyptic version of "Keep the Car Running." There will be Portishead's "Roads" alongside Delta Rae's "Bottom of the River" and Glen Handsard's "High Hope."  I am getting excited not only for the artistic creativity of crafting these great songs, but how they deepen and make flesh the old, old story.

Two challenges:  first, this kind of reworking of liturgy takes some interpretation - only the most intuitive and edgy folk "get" it right out of the gate.  So I'm learning to add some written interpretation in our printed material and be fairly blunt, too in the opening welcome.  This is really a combination of performance art and prayer and takes a bit to time to embrace.  Second, readers, artists and musicians who aren't already grounded in experimental liturgy also take some time warming up to this kind of event.  Worship in this minor key takes a lot of practice and preparation. 

Thank God I have a core of artists and musicians who are energized by this quest.  Last night, after our first practice, I sent three drafts out of our publicity poster and invited reactions - and the responses I got resonated with my own.  Lord, it makes all the difference in the world doing this creativity with collaboratos and colleagues who GET it! So, we're off... I'll keep you posted as it unfolds.


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