It seems appropriate for me to post a prayer for Good Friday that arose from a sermon of Martin Luther’s in the Church Postils as we come to the end of Holy Week.
I developed the prayers in my book, Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther: Finding Freedom in Love, by sorting through the major themes in Luther’s explanations of the gospel texts. Sometimes there were three or four sermons for a single text, so I sometimes condensed 30,000 words into 300. It was tedious work, but I benefited the most from the effort. Martin Luther gave me the freedom to depart from the entrenched institution when love is being denied or displaced by law.
Here’s a quote from his sermon on how to contemplate Christ’s sufferings, and the subsequent prayer:
- There you will find the divine, good father heart, and, as Christ says, be thus drawn to the Father through Christ. Then will you understand the saying of Christ in John 3, 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc. That means to know God aright, if we apprehend him not by his power and wisdom, which terrify us, but by his goodness and love; there our faith and confidence can then stand immovable and man is truly thus born anew in God. (Vol. 2:190)
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A Prayer for Good Friday
How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings
On this day of judgment, O Christ, You took my place. It does me no good to blame others for what was done to You. And I can’t just go through the motions of meditating on Your sacrifice, thinking I benefit by doing so. Free my spirit to weep for myself and what I personally have done to inflict this pain on You. Why would the eternal wisdom of God established in You, the Son, ask You to suffer such agony for me? Give me courage to consider the depths of this question.
I have shown disdain for You by the way I have lived the life You breathed into me. The works of my hands drove the nails into Your hands. My wicked thoughts pressed the thorny crown into Your holy brow. Forgive me for the contempt I have shown. I have been living in false security and ignorance. I deserve to go through what You went through a thousand times.
In Your mercy and compassion, soften my heart so that I can understand what You did. Lead me to greater comprehension of why You did this, that I might glimpse an inkling of Your grace. On my own, I haven’t been able to discover the depth of Your love for me.
Only You know the way into my heart and what is required to turn to You. Rather than trust that I am able to cover the stain of my sin with good deeds and religious rituals, guide me to pour the reservoir of my sin into Your wounds. Bring me the peace of knowing You loved me enough to willingly bear my punishment.
Now that sin’s price is paid and the pain has been borne, I will watch in awe as the resurrection swallows and destroys my sin, along with the rest of the world’s sin. O happy day! Grant me trust beyond doubt that all debt is satisfied and no sin remains. Faith like this can only come as a gift from You.
I declare sin and all wrongdoing to be my enemies. I want to live to please You and bring glory to God. The love and goodness I see in Your sacrifice for the world far exceeds all the power or wisdom I have attributed to Your Being. May the sufferings You experienced be the model for my life.
When trials cause me pain, let me remember the nails and thorns that pierced Your skin. When I, as Your follower, am pressured to do what I don’t want to do, let me remember how You were led where You didn’t want to go. When pride attacks me and calls me foolish for sacrificing myself for others, let me recall how You were mocked and disgraced. Take away any fear that makes me think following You will bring greater suffering than blessing. Teach me to incorporate Your life into my life, for You showed the way of eternal life. Amen.
[Each prayer is followed by one or two verses of a hymn written by Martin Luther.]
- Strange and dreadful was the fray,
When Death and Life contended;
But ’twas Life that won the day,
And Death’s dark sway was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith,
Death is swallowed up of Death,
Put to scorn and led in triumph.
- This, the Paschal Lamb, the Christ,
Whom God so freely gave us,
On the cross is sacrificed
In flames of love to save us.
On our door the blood-mark:—Faith
Holds it in the face of Death.
The Destroyer can not harm us.