From Despair to Praise

A Good Friday Reader's Theater

One of the unique things about this Good Friday service is the interweaving of Psalm 22 throughout the account of the crucifixion. By quoting the first verse of this psalm while he was dying on the cross, Jesus was really pointing to the message of the whole psalm. Notice the movement in the psalm from a cry of despair—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—

to a proclamation of praise—“He has done it!” —JB



Song: “Man of Sorrows—What a Name” CH 311, PsH 482, TH 246, WR 301

The Garden

Evangelist: Matthew 26:36-47

Song: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” PH 97, PsH 381, WR 272

The Trial

Reading: from Matthew 27:11-26

Evangelist: Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. 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?

Evangelist: But 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?

Evangelist: 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.

Scoffers: Barabbas!

Evangelist: they answered.

Pilate: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?

Evangelist: Pilate asked. They all answered,

Scoffers: Crucify him!

Pilate: Why? What crime has he committed?

Evangelist: asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder,

Scoffers: Crucify him!

Evangelist: 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!

Evangelist: All the people answered,

Scoffers: His blood is on us and on our children!

Evangelist: Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.




The Crucifixion

Evangelist: Luke 23:32-34

Solo: “Were You There” CH 315, PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, WR 283

Poet: Psalm 22:1-2

Evangelist: Matthew 27:45-46

Song: “Ah, Holy Jesus” PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262

Poet: Psalm 22:3-8

Scoffer 1: He trusts in the Lord;

Scoffer 2: let the Lord rescue him.

Scoffer 3: Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Evangelist: John 19:25-27

Poet: Psalm 22:9-11

Scoffer 1: Do not write, “King of the Jews”

Scoffer 2: but that this man claimed to be King of the Jews.

Song: “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” CH 306, PH 78, PsH 385, TH 254, WR 263

Poet: Psalm 22:12-15

Evangelist: John 19:28-29

Scoffer 1: He saved others,

Scoffer 2:: let him save himself

Scoffer 3: if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.

Song: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” CH 316, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284

Poet: Psalm 22:16-18

Evangelist: Luke 23:34

Scoffer 2: Let’s not tear it.

Scoffer 3: Let’s decide by lot who will get it.

Poet: Psalm 22:19-21

Scoffer 1: You who are going to destroy the temple

Scoffer 2: and build it in three days,

Scoffer 3: save yourself!

Scoffer 1: Come down from the cross

Scoffer 2: if you are the Son of God!

Song: “O Jesus, We Adore You” PsH 472, TH 255

Poet: Psalm 22:22-28

Evangelist: Luke 23:39-43

Scoffer 1: This is the King of the Jews?

Scoffer 2: If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.

Scoffer 3: Let him come down now from the cross,

Scoffer 1: and we will believe him.

Song: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321/324, PH 100/101, PsH 384, SFL 166, TH 252, WR 261

Poet: Psalm 22:29-31

Evangelist: John 19:30

Scoffer 1: Surely he was the Son of God.

Scoffer 2: Surely he was the Son of God.

Scoffer 3: Surely he was the Son of God.

Song: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” CH 539, PH 383, PsH 262, TH 528, WR 419


Evangelist: Luke 23:50-54

Solo: “Were You There” (stanza 3)

Closing of the tomb

The Waiting

Evangelist: Luke 23:55-56

Solo: “Were You There” (stanza 3, last line only)


Notes on the Service

  • Participants: preacher, poet, evangelist, three scoffers, one or two soloists, musicians.
  • All participants wear black. The stage is empty except for the cross, a stand for the Bible, the font and table, and pulpit/music stands needed for the readers and pastor.
  • Scoffers are in the balcony; poet is at stage right; evangelist is at stage left. Preacher is at center stage. Soloist sings without accompaniment from either the rear of the sanctuary or the balcony.
  • The Christ candle is lit behind the Bible stand. In the crucifixion section, one set of sanctuary lights goes off after the singing of each song. At the closing of the tomb, represented by the pastor snapping shut the pulpit Bible, all remaining lights go off except for the Christ candle.
  • The closed Bible and the Christ candle are carried to the back of the sanctuary in darkness immediately after the closing of the tomb and during the solo. The candle is carried by the poet, the Bible by the pastor. The procession will be led by the evangelist, who carries the cross if possible.
  • The evangelist reads Luke 23:55-56 from the back of the sanctuary.
  • At the end of the last solo, sanctuary lights come up just enough for people to safely exit; commons and foyer lights are dim. People are encouraged to leave in silence.

Carol Veldman Rudie ( is a freelance writer and a member of Calvary Christian Reformed Church, Edina, Minnesota.


Reformed Worship 90 © December 2008, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.