Community Good Friday service focuses on bringing down barriers
By John Armistead
The Good Friday worshipers in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Tupelo sang three songs from the hymnal – one written by a 17th century English Puritan, another based on a medieval Latin hymn, and the third an African-American spiritual. The selection reflected the service’s ecumenical spirit and the variety of churches represented.
The Rev. McCoy Franklin, pastor of Tupelo’s First Presbyterian Church, preached a sermon on the ripping of the curtain which hung before the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple at the time of the crucifixion. Franklin emphasized that Christ has always been involved in tearing down barriers, “whether between God and people or between the sacred and the secular.”
“Jesus usually healed by touching. He reached across all the barriers and touched those who were considered unclean,” Franklin told the approximately 250 people assembled for the noontime service.
According to the Gospels, Jesus died on the cross on the Friday afternoon of Passover week and was quickly buried in a borrowed tomb before sundown. Subsequently, early Christians observed every Friday as a day of reflection on the crucifixion. For centuries, each Friday was a fast day in which no meat was eaten.
The first followers of Christ were all Jews, and, faithful to their heritage, continued to observe the Passover (which they called Pascha), although they now reinterpreted the festival as relating to Christ. Christ himself was the Paschal lamb, which was sacrificed for the sin of the people.
During the first century, special observances of fasting and penance began to be held on Sunday and Friday in Jerusalem. From these observances, Good Friday emerged. In the third century, Emperor Constantine made Good Friday a legal holiday.
After the Protestant Reformation, liturgical churches (such as Episcopal and Lutheran) continued to follow the church year and observe Good Friday. Protestant churches descended from 17th century English Puritanism (such as Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregational), on the other hand, rejected the entire church year as “unscriptural.” Most of these churches, however, have resumed the observance of Christmas and Easter, and many now celebrate Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Tupelo’s Community Good Friday Service began more than two decades ago following the racial integration of the ministerial association. The ministers wanted to provide an opportunity for blacks and whites of the city to worship together in hopes of building greater harmony and understanding between the races.
Worshipers at the Good Friday Service at First Baptist gave an offering for benevolent work overseen by the Salvation Army of Tupelo. The service was sponsored by the Greater Tupelo Ministerial Association.