This is the first year that I ended the narrative with Jesus’ death. Past years, I’ve always gone on to the burial. But since Jesus says “It is finished” in the Gospel of John, I thought was a dramatic and powerful moment to end the narrative. And it was.
We do this narrative as the second half of our service of worship (except the entry into Jerusalem is the very first thing we do after the prelude, after which we wave the palms and march around the sanctuary singing a Palm Sunday hymn). After Jesus leaves, we hold Holy Silence in the dark for about a minute. Then an acolyte relights the Christ candle and the lights are brought up dimly. Congregants may remain in silence or leave quietly. We have no benediction, postlude, or sending song. I remind the congregation of this before we begin, and the bulletin also will say “Holy Silence” and have a blurb about waiting, remaining silent, and no benediction or other activity after the Christ Candle is lighted.
Narrator 1 and Narrator 2 (can just be one narrator, too)
Disciple 3, Woman
Disciple 1, Police
Disciple 2, Soldier, Slave
Narrator: The great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
(then the rest of the service – confession, offering, prayers of the people, etc. – until we come to the Passion Narrative.)
HYMN – What Wondrous Love is This, verse 1 (cast, except Pilate, move forward and take places during the hymn; lights in congregation are dimmed to highlight chancel area, but not so much that the congregation can’t read the hymns or their parts when Jesus is on trial)
What wondrous love is this, O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this! that Christ should come in bliss
to bear the heavy cross for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the heavy cross for my soul!
Jesus: My hour has come to depart from this world and go to the Father. This is my last Passover meal with you, my friends. Know that I love you all.
Narrator: The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?
Jesus: You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.
Peter: You will never wash my feet.
Jesus: Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.
Peter: Then Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!
Jesus: One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, for that one is entirely clean. And you are clean. (pause) Though not all of you are clean.
Narrator: Jesus said this for he knew who was to betray him.
Jesus: Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.
HYMN – What Wondrous Love is This verse 2
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
while millions join the theme, I will sing.
Jesus (troubled in spirit): Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.
Peter and Disciples 1, 2, and 3 (randomly, and looking at one another): Is it I? Who does he mean? One of us? Which one? (say 2 or 3 things; feel free to improve?)
Peter: Ask Jesus who he is speaking about.
Disciple 3: Lord, who is it?
Jesus: It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.
Narrator: So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
Jesus: Do quickly what you are going to do.
Disciple 1 (whispering): Has he told Judas to use the common purse to buy what we need for the festival?
Disciple 2 (whispering): Maybe he’s telling Judas to give something to the poor.
Narrator: After receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.
HYMN – O God How We Have Wandered verses 1 and 2
O God, how we have wandered and hidden from your face;
in foolishness have squandered your legacy of grace.
But how, in exile dwelling, we turn with fear and shame,
as distant but compelling, you call us each by name.
And now at length discerning the evil that we do,
By faith we are returning with hope and trust in you.
Grant now that our transgressing, our faithlessness may cease.
Stretch out your hand in blessing, in pardon, and in peace.
Jesus: My friends, whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. You are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.
I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. But I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me.
Peter: Lord, where are you going?
Jesus: Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.
Peter: Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.
Jesus: Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
Narrator: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven.
Jesus: Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, and give eternal life to all whom you have given him. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth of your word.
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.
HYMN – Just as I Am verses 1 and 3
Just as I am, without one plea, but that your blood was shed for me,
And that you called inviting me, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, you will receive, will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because your promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Narrator: After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
Jesus: For whom are you looking?
Soldier: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus: I am he.
Narrator: The soldiers, police, and Judas stepped back and fell to the ground.
Jesus: For whom are you looking?
Police: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus: I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.
Narrator: Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.
Jesus: Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
Narrator: So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
HYMN – Journey to Gethsemane verse 1
Journey to Gethsemane, go and feel the tempter’s power;
Your redeemer’s conflict see, watch the anguish of this hour;
Do not hide or turn away: learn from Jesus how to pray.
Narrator: Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
Woman: You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?
Peter: I am not.
Narrator: Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. (PAUSE because scene changes) Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching.
Jesus: I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.
Narrator: One of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face.
Police: Is that how you answer the high priest?
Jesus: If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?
Narrator: Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (PAUSE because scene changes) Simon Peter was standing and warming himself at the fire with the slaves and police.
Police: You are not also one of his disciples, are you?
Peter: I am not.
Slave: Did I not see you in the garden with him? You are the one who cut off my cousin’s ear.
Peter: I am not.
Police: Listen – the cock is crowing. Morning has come.
HYMN – Journey to Gethsemane verse 2
Follow then to Pilate’s hall, view the Lord of Life arraigned;
Crowned with thorns and mocked by all, faithfully this pain sustained;
Greater still than shame or loss, Jesus now must face the cross.
Calvary’s mournful mountain climb, see the Savior lifted high.
Mark the miracle of time, God’s own Child is sacrificed;
‘It is finished’ Jesus cries: learn from Jesus how to die.
Narrator: Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. The Jews did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them.
(enter Pilate dramatically)
Pilate (floor, addressing congregation): What accusation do you bring against this man?
Congregation: If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.
Pilate (floor): Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.
Congregation: We are not permitted to put anyone to death.
Pilate (floor): Bring me this Jesus. (move to chair)
Pilate (on chair, to Jesus): Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus: Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?
Pilate: I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?
Jesus: My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
Pilate: So you are a king?
Jesus: You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Pilate: What is truth? (move to floor)
Pilate (floor): I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?
Congregation: Not this man, but the bandit Barabbas!
(Pilate move to chair)
Pilate (chair). Then take this man and flog him.
Narrator: And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe and struck him on the face.
Soldiers (mockingly, randomly): Hail, King of the Jews!’
(Pilate move to floor)
Pilate (floor): Look, I bring him out to you one more time to let you know that I find no case against him. Here is the man!
Congregation: Crucify him! Crucify him!
Pilate: Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.
Congregation: According to our law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.
Pilate (to self): I am filled with great fear. I must be careful. (move to chair)
Pilate (chair): Jesus, where are you from?
Pilate: Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?
Jesus: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.
Pilate (move to floor):
Pilate (floor): I must release this man, for he has done nothing wrong.
Congregation: If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.
Pilate: So be it. (pointing to Jesus) Here is your King!
Congregation: Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!
Pilate: Shall I crucify your King?
Congregation: We have no king but the emperor.
Pilate: So be it. (Pilate blow out Christ candle, then exit)
(Disciples 1, 2, and 3 leave after Pilate has exited)
SOLO –“Jesus, Our Lord, is Crucified” (or other appropriate solo; the reason for solo here instead of another hymn is that the congregation has just demanded Jesus' crucifixion, so they should have no more role in this service of worship except to watch in silence and then leave)
(turn off all lights - note: our sanctuary has plenty of windows, so there was still light enough to see and read; if you do not have that option, go for as dark as possible for the next scene while allowing Jesus and narrator to see and congregation to see Jesus)
Narrator: So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. The chief priests asked that it be changed to ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews,’ but Pilate refused. When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them.
Narrator: Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her.
Jesus: Woman, here is your son, and my friend, here is your mother.
Narrator: And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Jesus: I am thirsty.
Narrator: A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. He received the wine and drank it. (pause) Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus: It is finished. (sit very, very still with head bowed down)
(About five seconds after Jesus finishes his line, the narrator exits. 5-10 seconds after the narrator exits, Jesus exists quietly down center aisle, head bowed down, making no eye contact. Jesus should leave the sanctuary entirely).Tweet
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