Good Friday observances planned by area churches this year range from traditional liturgies to a service that will link Christ's suffering and death on the cross with the anguish of contemporary victims of drugs, crime and poverty.
Most Catholic churches will conduct the familiar stations of the cross ritual, with worshipers proceeding around the church for meditation and prayer at each of the 14 sites representing a particular event in Christ's journey from Jerusalem to Calvary.
In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims are expected once again to throng the narrow, twisted passageways of the Old City where Christ walked 19 centuries ago, as they participate in a reenactment traditionally led by Franciscan friars.
Here in Washington, worshipers can get some flavor of the Jerusalem pilgrimage at the Franciscan monastery at 1400 Quincy St. NE., where believers are invited at noon to "walk the way of the cross," led by monks carrying a hand-made eight-foot cross in a procession past stations of the cross located in the monastery's garden.
At the Episcopal Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, the stations of the cross will be taken not from history but from the rigors of life in the inner city. "We will be stopping at places where actual tragedies occurred, many of them based on Reagan budget cuts," said the Rev. Jack Woodard, rector of the activist congregation.
The "stations," beginning at noon, will include a supermarket where, according to Woodard, poor people can no longer afford to shop because their food stamps have been cut off; a spot on 16th Street where an 83-year-old participant in the church's daily lunch program for the elderly was knocked down and robbed last December; an abandoned house where a man froze to death last winter; the corner where two youths, former acolytes at the church, died of heroin overdoses, and a neighborhood bank that refuses to cash welfare and Social Security checks, thereby "forcing people to go to the liquor store where they get their change in a bottle of gin," Woodard said.
On Easter Sunday, the priest added, the congregation will revisit the same sites and release balloons "to symbolize the resurrection" and hope.
Some churches mark Good Friday with special productions of great music or drama created for this event.
Good Friday's solemn remembrance of Christ's death on the cross marks an event in history about which there is general agreement among Christians of all persuasions. Therefore it has become a time when Christian churches increasingly celebrate across denominational lines, most often with services featuring meditations on the last statements of Christ as He hung on the cross. Churches in Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Rockville, and Tysons Corners, among others, have scheduled such ecumenical services.
While Good Friday is the climax of Holy Week, which began with Palm Sunday, tomorrow--Maundy Thursday--is also a time for special observance, usually including a service of holy communion. For many churches, this is a solemn and intimate family time, with the worship service taking place around the tables as members of the congregation gather their families for an evening meal together.
Some churches incorporate in the Maundy Thursday observance a ritual of foot-washing, symbolic of the Christian's calling to serve humanity and a reenactment of the Gospel's report that "Jesus took a towel and washed the disciples' feet."
For Eastern Orthodox churches, which follow a different liturgical calendar, Holy Week and Easter are still a week away.