From the Table to the Cross: A maundy Thursday service of drama and song based on Wangerin's Living the Passio

Cast and Props

Readers for 16 parts

Scene 1: Water jar, male person
Scene 2: Round table, communion piate and cup
Scene 3: Peter and Jesus
Scene 4: Tree, three disciples, Jesus
Scene 5: Three disciples, Jesus, and a mob with lights, sticks, ropes, chains
Scene 6: Jesus roped, Caiaphas robed and seated at small round table
Scene 7: Fire pit, maid, Peter
Scene 8: Two readers on stage

Worship Setting

One 4' x 8' x 8" riser serves as the stage. Five tables are fanned out on either side of the stage (see diagram). Each table has nine chairs: four on each side and one on the end farthest from the stage.

Table Settings

Each place setting has a program, napkin, small paper plate and small paper cup. The center of each table has a plate of three matzohs and a decanter of grape juice. Each end of the table holds a large plate with nuts, raisins, cheese, crackers and/or similar snack foods.

THE SERVICE

Prelude

Welcome

SCENE 1

[Male stands on stage, holding a water jar on his head.]

Reader 1 reads Mark 14:12-16 from the stage.

Reader 2: [from a table] It's Thursday, less than a day before the rulers succeed in killing Jesus. The machinery of murder is moving through Jerusalem. Common people, sniffing the winds of rumor with animal accuracy, cannot be ignorant of the hostilities roused by this Jesus of Nazareth. The man is a fugitive: to know him is risky; to be with him, dangerous; but actually to harbor him is deadly.

Yet he who has had nowhere to lay his head now needs a house in which to celebrate the Passover.

Jesus: Who will give me room?

Reader 2: This is forever a measure of the love which Jesus inspires in human hearts: that there was a householder willing to endanger himself by saying, "I will. Come." We know almost as little about this man—and as much—as we know of the woman who anointed Jesus. We know him by his action only; and his deed was love. It was a sacrificial love, which puts itself in harm's way for the sake of the beloved.

"Listen," this householder said in secret to Jesus alone, fully aware of the danger, "we need a signal. I will send a man through the city with a jar of water." (Usually women carried jars, while men bore wineskins; it was a subtle distinction.) "When he sees men following him, he will lead them to my house. No words. No talk. Tell your disciples to identify themselves to me with the words, 'The Teacher says, Where is my guest room?' I'll furnish the upper room with rugs and cushions and a table. Come."

Not all houses had upper rooms; and the few that did had rooms large enough to accommodate a ritual meal for thirteen people. This whispering householder, the "goodman of the house," the head of the family, was not poor. He had something to lose.

Nevertheless, he did not say, "Jesus, I love you with all my heart—but surely you don't expect me to imperil the lives of my wife and my children, do you?"

He did not say, "I love you with all my soul— but let's be practical. How can I love you if I die? And wouldn't you yourself be less than loving to ask such a risk of me?"

He did not say, "I love you with all my mind-but I'm nobody special, no hero of faith. Now, Mother Teresa, maybe, or Martin Luther King might do it. Ask them."

He said, "Come."

Jesus: Who will give me room?

Reader 2: And loving him as he loved us, we answer, "Here, Lord. In my heart."

Prayer (all in unison)

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this room for you be blessed. Amen.

Hymn: "Come, for the Feast Is Spread"TH 480

[A time of fellowship and sharing table food]

SCENE 2

[Small round table is placed on stage with communion plate and cup.]

Reader 3 reads Mark 14:22-25 from stage.

Reader 4: [from a table] The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed ...

When is a mother more inclined to cuddle her children? When they're a nasty, insolent brood, disobedient and disrespectful of her motherhood? Or when they are cuddly?

When will a father likelier give good gifts to his children? When they've just mined the previous gift, by negligence or by downright wickedness? When they are sullen and self-absorbed? Or when they manifest genuine goodness and self-responsibility?

But the love of Jesus is utterly unaccountable— except that he is God and God is love. It has no cause in us. It reacts to, or repays, or rewards just nothing in us. It is beyond human measure, beyond human comprehension. It takes my breath away.

For when did Jesus choose to give us the enduring gift of his presence, his cuddling, his dear communing with us? When we were worthy of the gift, good people indeed? Hardly. It was precisely when we were most unworthy.

The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread. In the night when his people betrayed him, the Lord Jesus said, "This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many." Then! In the night of the gravest human treachery, he gave the gift of himself. And the giving has never ceased. The holy communion continues today. This is grace.

Hymn: "Eat This Bread" PsH 312

The Communion

Prayer

Lord, what shall I say to you? I lay my hand upon my mouth. Your love is too wonderful for me; it is high; I can't understand it. But this I do: I dwell within it, silently, gratefully, faithfully, believing in it after all. Amen.

SCENE 3

[Peter struts and strikes a macho pose on the stage. Jesus kneels on the riser looking up at Peter.]

Reader 5 reads Mark 14:26-31 from stage.

Reader 6: [reads from table] Hey, look me over. Lord! Check me out! I know I wasn't worth much before—but I've changed, right? I'm your solid citizen now, a solid Christian, loving you and trusting you, forgiving my neighbor as I would be forgiven. Why, I've confessed your name at work, and you know how grim those guys can be. But they know I'm a Christian. They don't curse near me no more. Feel my muscle! Bigger, right? I'm your man! Hey, I'm your disciple!

Jesus: You will all fall away.

Reader 6: Whoa! You can't mean that! Not all of us. Not me! I mean, okay: I know folks who could care less about you, right? Skip church, don't pray but when there's trouble, love their cars more than you. They say they're Christians, but when it comes to the crunch they drop you, Jesus. I pray. I do—daily and long, because I love you! I go to church. I serve on seven boards. I tithe, I fast. Look, even though everyone else falls away, I won't!

Jesus: Truly, this very night before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.

Reader 6: No! No, you don't know me! Oh, Jesus, how can you doubt me like that? Me, of all people! Me, who loves you the most! Don't I always speak up for you? Okay, okay—what should I do to prove my love? Tell me! You want me to quit my job? Sell everything? Become a missionary? I mean it! You want me to die for you? 1 will, Lord. I promise, I will. But I'll never, never deny you!

Jesus: Peter, Peter! Soon, in pain, you will discover that it's not your love, not your goodness or knowledge or prayer, no, not all your strength that keeps us together. Ida that. I alone, your Lord, do that.

Hymn: "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" PsH 493, PH 404, TWC 638

SCENE 4

[A tree is placed on the stage. Three drowsy disciples lounge. Jesus kneels in prayer.]

Reader 7 reads Mark 14:32-42 from stage.

Reader 8: [from a table] Night. There is a cold light falling from the indifferent stars—a light like the finest of snows, pale on the ground, pale on the hair and shoulders of a sad band of men moving outside the city.

They pause by a grove of black trees. Four men separate themselves and enter the trees.

Listen! One man is groaning. His breath comes in quick pants, compulsively. Listen: "Oh, Oh, Oh, God. Oh." He goes alone, now, deeper among the trees—while the other three arrange themselves on the ground, their backs agains the tree trunks. These three begin to nod. Soon, they sleep. The woods are pale and silent.

That one man, totally alone, is swaying back and forth as if dizzy, his face in his hands.

Suddenly he crumples to the ground. "Abba! Abba!" The sound is strangled in his throat. His fingers dig dirt like the roots of the trees. His chin and his beard grind against the earth.

"Abba, Father, I don't want to do this. Please! You can do anything; then take this cup away from me. Hell is in that cup! Death and damnation are in that cup! My Father, my Father, it will tear me away from you! No, I don't want to do this! No! Sin is in that cup—and if I drink it you won't look at me, you will loathe me, I will hate myself! I don't want to drink it."

His face turns upward, his eyes still shut. Then he whispers: "Nevertheless ... not what I want... but what you want."

He prays a second time till the sweat runs down his temples. His third prayer is so quiet that his body does not move. He waits in darkness, in a perfect silence for an answer.

When he returns to his friends the final time, he wakes them with the news that his betrayer has come. "Rise," he says. "Let us be going."

Hymn: "According to Thy Gracious Word" PsH 298, TH 423

stanza 3

SCENE 5

[Jesus and three disciples stand on stage. A mob with flashlights, sticks, ropes, chains surrounds them—gesturing.]

Reader 9 reads Mark 14:43-49 from stage.

Reader 10: [from a table] There comes an orange snake eastward through the night. A snake of fire, a long-snake of torches. Perhaps the disciples glance down from the Mount of Olives and see it and do not understand. Jesus understands. It winds the same path they themselves have followed from the city. It is a fatal snake. It kills by kissing.

The binding strength of that snake is the armed guard of the temple and the police of the Sanhedrin. Behold how the servants of God can bite!

But the head of the snake is one of the twelve, a disciple of Jesus. Behold how an intimate may kiss for other reasons than affection and respect.

Suddenly Judas Iscariot appears beside the group of friends who stand outside the Garden of Gethsemane. Smiling. Judas is smiling. And holding his torch aloft to shed light on the faces around him. Peering into these faces. Looking for ... no, not for John, not James; no, not for Andrew or for Peter, though he greets them all with familiar nods. He's looking for ... ah!

The disciples swallow, nervous and uncertain.

Jesus gazes and waits.

The serpent strikes!

Smiling, Judas says, "Rabbi!" and kisses Jesus. A sign of devotion. A sign, for the temple guard, that this is the one to seize and lead away. A lie.

Hymn: "Ah, Holyjesus, How Have You Offended"
PsH 386, PH 93, RL 285, TWC 231

stanza 1

SCENE 6

[Jesus and the high priest are on the stage. Jesus is roped and standing while the high priest is robed and seated at a small round table.]

Reader 11 reads Mark 14:53-65 from riser.

Reader 12: [from a table] The city has not yet awakened. The night is starless now, and cold. Jesus, surrounded by a tired guard, walks back through Jerusalem's streets. No one says anything. Jesus' eyes are steadfastly forward, his mouth closed.

He is led through the courtyard of the high priest's house. People glance up from firelight as he passes. He ascends the steps to an upper room, saying nothing.

This room is lit by yellow flame and oil-light. It's crowded. All round its walls men stand and stare. They number enough to make a quorum; that's what matters: their vote will represent the whole Sanhedrin.

Jesus is led to the center, facing a table. He stands straight and solitary, saying nothing.

High Priest Caiaphas, smooth and shrewd, sits at the table, presiding. Caiaphas is robed; Jesus is roped.

One by one the men move from the walls to testify against the prisoner. "I heard him say he'd destroy the temple," one says, creeping forward.

"When?" asks the high priest.
"Well, something about three days—"
"When did he threaten to destroy the temple?"
"Oh! Well, maybe three days ago?"
"No, no, no!" says another man, trying to be helpful. "I heard that at least three years ago—"

BOOM! The high priest strike the table, dismisses these fools, rises, and takes the floor himself.

To Jesus he hisses, "Have you nothing to say in your own defense?"

But Jesus continues to gaze at Caiaphas, steadfastly still and silent.

"What? What? What?" the high priest sneers, "Are you the Messiah, then?"

Nervous giggles flee through the room.

But now Jesus speaks, and what he says stops laughter altogether: "I am."

For an instant everyone freezes. "Blasphemy," Caiaphas roars. "Blasphemy, blasphemy! So what is your verdict?"

"Death!" says the council. "Of course."

Jesus looks out the window. The sky is streaked with gray. Morning is coming. He says nothing now. He says nothing at all.

Hymn: "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?"

stanza 2

SCENE 7

[Peter warms his hands over a fire pit on the stage. A maid stands there, pointing to Peter three times as the script leads.]

Reader 13 reads Mark 14:66-72 from the stage.

Reader 14: [from a table] There's a war inside the strong disciples (The stronger the disciple, tfre-wijfse the war!) There's a struggle in Peter between good and evil, between these two commitments: to his Lord and to his own survival.

The man is here, after all. Whether boldly or secretly, he has entered the den of the enemy. He's allowed himself to be enclosed in the high priest's courtyard. Love is stronger than fear right now.

What can he do for Jesus? Can't raise an army. Can't even draw his own sword anymore. Pray, maybe. Support the Lord by his presence. Be here. Being here is a witness, isn't it? Yes, if it becomes known. Well, even if it isn't known, it takes courage just to be here.

Suddenly a woman is talking to him. "You were with the Nazarene!" And suddenly he's frightfully aware of himself, his immediate situation.

"No," he says, not looking up. He wishes people wouldn't notice him. "I don't know what you are talking about."

He gets up and walks to the gateway. He is aware of himself right now. He has lied to save himself. On the other hand, he has not actually left the place. He stays. Her voice carries to the gateway; the eyes of the others are turning in his direction. She looks at him and all eyes turn to him. "I don't know that man," he says with a nervous chuckle.

He wants to save himself. Nevertheless, he still intends to stay. Peter sweats it out and loves the Lord and does not leave.

Right now—after the second denial, before the third—the forces warring in Peter's soul seem terribly equal: a tremendous, selfless love for Jesus keeps him there, while a consuming self-interest keeps him lying. He denies himself to stay by his Lord. He denies his Lord to save himself.

Peter is paralyzed between the good that he would and the evil that he is.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, it is no small thing that the very first word of your resurrection carried a message for Peter: "Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee." In the naming of the man you forgave him. You received him again, an apostle, pure and strong and loving. Lord, Jesus, we beg the same forgiveness. Amen.

SCENE 8

[Two readers on stage.]

Reader 15 reads Mark 15:16-20.

Reader 16 leads the following litany. The congregation reads the lines in bold:

Now the soldiers lead him away, inside the palace (that is, the Praetorium).

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.

And they call together the whole battalion, some six hundred soldiers, auxiliary troops recruited from the non-Jewish peoples of Palestine. "Recreation!" they cry. "A little R-and-R."

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.

Jesus has already been scourged with the fla-gellum. His back is bleeding. When they pull a purple cloak across his shoulders, the blood soaks through. They weave a crown from the thorny branches of a nearby shrub. They stick this to his head, brow, and scalp.

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

The soldiers begin to salute him in a raucous mockery of high office, hooting, "Hail, you King of the Jews!"

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

And they strike his head with a reed, pitiful sign for a scepter.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

And they turn and spit on him.

Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.

And they kneel down in grinning homage to him.

Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

And when they've grown weary of the game, they strip him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes back on him.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And so those who led him into the palace now lead him out again, to crucify him.

Hymn: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" PsH 474, RL 297, 298, TWC 209

The Blessing

 

Excerpt
LETTER TO PARTICIPANTS

Thanks for being willing to take part in our Maundy Thursday service. Enclosed is a copy of the entire service, with your part highlighted. If you're a reader of Scripture, I've also enclosed a copy of the passage (highlighted) that you'll read from the contemporary translation The Message.

Note that the service begins at 7:30 p.m. but we will rehearse for the service beginning at 5:30 p.m. You may want to bring along some sandwiches or snacks and something to drink.

Note to all readers:

Please take some time to read over your passage (whether Scripture or from the narrative by Walter Wangerin, or in some cases, both) before you come. Remind yourself to (1) read slowly, (2) read expressively, (3) read clearly.

The words of Jesus in all cases will be read "offstage." That means that if you're reading a passage in which Jesus speaks, you must pause at the appropriate points for the voice of Jesus, J:hen

pick up again when Jesus' words have been spoken. The words you will read are highlighted in orange; Jesus' words (which you will not read) are in yellow.

If you have a flashlight, please bring it. The sanctuary will be fairly dark, and there may not be enough light for you to see your script clearly.

Note to all "actors":

First, rest easy. You don't really have to act. What you will do for your scene(s) is mount the riser and maintain a pose while the readers read. You won't speak any lines yourself. But you can see why we need a rehearsal: to make sure each person knows where he or she is to stand and what pose to hold.

Note to everyone:

We're depending on you! If any problems turn up, call me. Please remember to bring your script (copy of the service) with you.

 

Roger Van Harn is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.