A Dramatic Reading: John 18:28-19:16
[The narrator stays behind the pulpit. Jesus stands to the front, left, the priest to the front, right, Pilate moves back and forth between Jesus and the priest. The lights are dimmed.]
Narrator: Judas has done his job. Jesus has been arrested, and his disciples have scattered. Only a few hours earlier, he was questioned by the high priest. His face shows the bruising and swelling from a beating he received from the temple guard.
Peter has already fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus and denied him three times. It is now early in the morning, and the night is almost gone. It is the time that Pilate will hear cases in his court. Jesus arrives at Pilate's house and is taken inside. The Jews who have taken him there remain outside. It is the time of the Passover, and the Jews must remain ceremonially clean. If they enter the house of a Gentile, they will be unclean for the feast. They have murder in their hearts, but they want to keep their hands clean to celebrate the deliverance of the Lord.
Pilate: Another case of fighting and disagreement among these people that I am supposed to rule. My job is to keep the peace. But sometimes I have to get brutal with them. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of their religious squabbles, and I simply don't have the interest or the knowledge to make an informed decision. Most often, I wish they would simply leave me alone.
Here they come with another prisoner. Another case to consider. Obviously, they have worked this one over already, [tinning toward the priest] What has this man done?
Priest: This man is a criminal. He is a threat. Why would we bring him to you if these things were not true?
Pilate: If you are not going to answer me, then take him into your own courts and judge him.
Priest: We want him dead, but we don't have the power to do it. You know that only you Roman governors have the power of life and death. If we had this power, we would have passed judgment ourselves.
Choral Anthem: "When Jesus Wept"
Song: "Man of Sorrows, What a Name" PsH 482:1-3 [unannounced]
[Dim lights and extinguish candle.]
Narrator: Now the story is played out on two stages with Pilate acting as the mediator between the two. Leaving the Jews who remained outside the palace to avoid being made unclean, Pilate went inside to speak with Jesus.
Pilate: I have heard rumors that you think you are the king of the Jews. I have dealt with your kind before. I have often had to put down rebellions and kill their leaders. But you don't seem like the leader of a rebellion. Are you the king?
Jesus: Pilate, is that your own idea, or has someone planted it in your head? Have others talked to you about me?
Pilate: Am I a Jew? What makes you think I could care less about this whole matter? My job is to make sure things go smoothly so that Rome gets good reports that you people are peacefully paying your taxes. What do I know about you and your claims to be a Jewish king?
Your own people have handed you over to me. Obviously, I didn't order your arrest. I didn't have you beaten or dragged here. But from the bruises and welts on your face, I can see that you are not very popular with them. What did you do to make them so angry? Why do they want you dead?
Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world. It is not grounded here. It does not originate here. If that were the case, there would be a fight. My followers would be armed and dangerous. You would have a revolutionary war on your hands. My kingdom is from another place.
Pilate: If you have a kingdom, you must be a king. Is that what you are telling me? Are you a king?
Jesus: You are right in saying that I am a king. This is why I was born. This is my reason for coming into this world. I came to testify to the truth and everyone on the side of truth listens to me.
Pilate: What is truth?
Song: "As Moses Raised the Serpent Up" PsH 219, SFL 165
[Dim lights and extinguish candle.]
Narrator: After questioning Jesus in the palace, Pilate went out to speak again to those gathered outside his house.
Pilate: I can find no basis for any charge against him. Normally at this point I would free Jesus and send all of you back to your homes. But I will make a deal with you. As you know, during the Passover, I grant you the release of a prisoner. You can choose this man who claims to be the king of the Jews, or you can have Barabbas, the political criminal. As you know, Barabbas is a dangerous man. Whom will you choose? [looks at congregation]
Congregation: No, not him. Free Barabbas.
Narrator: Seeing that this strategy to free Jesus would not work, Pilate had Jesus flogged, which was one of the most cruel tortures. There are three different methods of flogging. One is fairly mild, the second is more brutal, and the third is often deadly. Jesus received the third kind. A crown of thorns was fashioned and pushed on his head. A purple rug was thrown around him as a royal robe. The soldiers punched him and spit in his face. Following this humiliation, Pilate brought Jesus out to face the crowd. He was bleeding and staggering as he made his way to meet those calling for his death.
Pilate: Look, I am bringing him out. I have examined him, and I find no basis for any charge against him. Now drop the charges. He has received a beating, and he has been humiliated. Should I let him go free?
[looks at congregation]
Congregation: Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!
Song: "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed"
PsH 385, PH 78, TH 54
[Dim lights and extinguish candle.]
Narrator: Knowing that he had no basis to put this man to death, Pilate pleaded with the crowd.
Pilate: I find no reason to put him to death. If you want him dead, then you take him out and crucify him. I can see no point in ending his life.
Priest: We have a law, and according to that law, he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God. As you know, Pilate, your job is not simply to uphold the Roman laws. You must also uphold our laws and customs. He claims to be a king, which is against Roman law. And he claims to be the Son of God, which is against our law. He must be put to death.
Narrator: Upon hearing this, Pilate became very afraid. Who was this strange man? Why did these people hate him? Why did he say nothing in his own defense?
Pilate: Jesus, where are you from? What is your background? [long pause] You refuse to talk to me? Look at you! Your head and face are bleeding. Your back is laid wide open from the whip. Don't you know that I hold in my hands the power of life and death? I decide if you die or if you go free. All the authority in this situation belongs to me.
Jesus: You only have power because it was given to you from God. No matter what you plan to do to me, it is all under God's control. You are merely doing what has been planned all along. Those who handed me over to you are the guilty ones.
Narrator: Pilate could not understand this strange answer, but he made up his mind to set Jesus free. But those gathered outside his palace continued to shout: [motions to crowd]
Congregation: Crucify him! Crucify him! If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar. Crucify him!
Narrator: Pilate knew that this was a serious charge. It would not be good for this kind of accusation to find its way back to Rome. Again he brought Jesus out. It was about noon, the time of day when two things happened during the Passover feast. First, everyone stopped working. Second, the slaughter of the Passover lambs began.
The lambs were killed so that the sins of the people might be forgiven, so that the angel of judgment might pass over them. Those gathered around Pilate's house needed to hurry along the execution so they could go home and celebrate the love of God in the Passover feast.
Pilate: Again, I find no fault in this man. He claims to be a king, but he is harmless. What do you say?
Congregation: Take him away! Take him away! Hang him on a cross! Crucify him!
Pilate: Shall I crucify your king?
Congregation: We have no king but Caesar! Crucify him!
Pilate: Then let him be crucified.
Song: "Ah, Holy Jesus" PsH 386, PH 93, RL 285, TH 248
[Dim lights and extinguish final candle.]
String solo: "Were You There" PsH 377, PH 102, SFL 167, TH 269
[Bells chime thirty-three times, once for each year of Jesus' life.]
[Fade to total darkness.]
[The people leave in silence.]
We had two different ideas for banners. The first, which we did not use but would work well, is to create a banner that has "I AM" at the top. Each week a section is added that contains a summary of the statement of the week: "the bread of life," "the light of the world," and so on. We have used a similar banner for a series on the seven words from the cross and found that it is an effective visual aid to worship.
The second idea, pictured on this page, is to simply drape a banner that says "I AM" over the cross. We began by draping a purple cloth over the top of the cross. We draped the "I AM" banner, produced on a fishnet material, over the purple cloth. And we placed a crown of thorns over the top of the cross.