This service presents a dramatic reading of Matthew 26 and 27 with an introduction from Matthew 21. A narrator reads all the sections that tie the dialogue together. Songs are used at the end of each logical sequence to bridge to the next section.
In addition to the various characters whose dialogue is spoken by readers, the congregation participates by reading the lines for “People.” In this way all become participants in the events that took place so long ago: from welcoming Jesus with cheers and praise during the reading of the Palm Sunday text to shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in answer to Pilate’s question about what to do with Jesus. This profound and moving service ends with the tolling of a bell, once for each year Jesus lived on earth; the people leave in silence.
Hymn: “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” CH 297, PH 89, PsH 378, WR 267
The Triumphal Entry: Matthew 21:1-11
Narrator: As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
Jesus: Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.
Narrator: This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
People: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Narrator: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, Who is this? The crowds answered,
People: This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Song: “All That I Can Do” by Ted Sandquist or “Mantos y palmas/Filled with Excitement” SNC 133 or “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” PsH 382
Overturned Tables: Matthew 21:12-13
Narrator: Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
Jesus: It is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.”
The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-29
Narrator: On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked,
Disciples: Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?
Jesus: Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, “The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”
Narrator: So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said,
Jesus: Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.
Disciples: Surely not I, Lord? Surely not I?
Jesus: The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.
Judas: Surely not I, Rabbi?
Jesus: You have said so.
Narrator: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying,
Jesus: Take and eat; this is my body.
Narrator: Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying,
Jesus: Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.
Song: “How Beautiful” (Twila Paris) or “Bread of the World, in Mercy Broken” PH 502, PsH 310, TH 425, WR 693
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial: Matthew 26:31-35
Jesus: This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.
Peter: Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.
Jesus: Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.
Peter: Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.
Narrator: And all the other disciples said the same.
Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-45
Narrator: Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them,
Jesus: Sit here while I go over there and pray.
Narrator: He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them,
Jesus: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.
Narrator: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,
Jesus: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
Narrator: Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.
Jesus: Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.
Narrator: He went away a second time and prayed,
Jesus: My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.
Narrator: When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them,
Jesus: Are you still sleeping and resting?
Hymn: “Open Our Eyes, Lord” CH 633, SNC 80, SWM 179, WR 491
Jesus Arrested: Matthew 26:45-56
Jesus: Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! let us go! Here comes my betrayer!
Narrator: While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them:
Judas: The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.
Narrator: Going at once to Jesus, Judas said,
Judas: Greetings, Rabbi!
Narrator: and Judas kissed him.
Jesus: Friend, do what you came for.
Narrator: Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus, and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
Jesus: Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.
Narrator: Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Song: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262
Before the Sanhedrin: Matthew 26:57-68
Narrator: Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared,
People: This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.”
High Priest: Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?
Narrator: But Jesus remained silent.
High Priest: I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.
Jesus: You have said so. But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.
High Priest: He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?
People: He is worthy of death.
Narrator: Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said,
High Priest: Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?
Song: “Jesus the Lord” (Roc O’Connor) or “Go to Dark Gethsemane” PH 97, PsH 381, WR 272
Peter Disowns Jesus: Matthew 26:69-75
Narrator: Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. Peter denied it before them all.
Peter: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Narrator: Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath:
Peter: I don’t know the man!
Narrator: After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them,
Peter: I don’t know the man!
Narrator: Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Judas Hangs Himself: Matthew 27:1-10
Narrator: Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.
Judas: I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.
High Priest: What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.
Narrator: So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the coins and said,
High Priest: It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.
Narrator: So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
Song: “You Are My Wholeness” (Roy Salamond) or “No Weight of Gold of Silver” PsH 374
Jesus Before Pilate: Matthew 27:11-26
Narrator: Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him,
Pilate: Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus: You have said so.
Narrator: When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him:
Pilate: Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?
Narrator: Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them,
Pilate: Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?
Narrator: For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Pilate: Which of the two do you want me to release to you?
Pilate: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?
People: Crucify him!
Pilate: Why? What crime has he committed?
People: Crucify him! Crucify him!
Narrator: When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.
Pilate: I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!
People: His blood is on us and on our children!
Narrator: Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus: Matthew 27:27-31
Narrator: Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him.
People: Hail, king of the Jews!
Narrator: They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Song: “To Mock Your Reign” (Music: Thomas Tallis, words: Fred Pratt Green) or “Calvary” SNC 140
The Crucifixion: Matthew 27:32-44
Narrator: As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him:
People: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Hymn: “Were You There” PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, WR 283
Narrator: Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying,
People: You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!
High Priest: He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”
Narrator: In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Song: “Watch the Lamb” (Ray Boltz)
[Praise dancers present interpretive movements for this song] or “Lamb of God” CH 302, SWM 124, WR 281
The Death of Jesus: Matthew 27:45-54
Narrator: From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
People: He’s calling Elijah.
Narrator: Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
People: Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.
Narrator: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
Hymn: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 324, PH 101, SFL 166, PsH 384, TH 252, WR 261
[Bell tolls thirty-three times, once for each year Christ was with us on earth. Then the people leave in silence.]