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Jesus' Last Words

A Service of Shadows and Stones

This article originally appeared in the March issue of Fidelia’s Sisters, a magazine for and about young clergy women (www.youngclergywomen.org) and is reprinted with their permission.

Our congregation has used Taizé, Tenebrae, and narratives of the Passion in past Good Friday services. I grew up in a congregation that often used the “Seven Last Words of Christ” as a focal point. I’ve been nourished by these services and so wrote this liturgy to combine some of those elements, but I also wanted to add some concrete ways for people to respond. I came up with the idea of using stones: stones as worry stones; stones as weights; stones as symbols of altars built where people have an encounter with God; and stones as used in modern Judaism to leave at a gravesite as a way to honor the memory of the deceased.

At the beginning of the service, each person received a stone. They were encouraged to hold it in their hand, to place their worries on it, to feel its weight. At the end of the service, as the congregation departed in silence, they left their stones on a small table draped in black at the back of the sanctuary—leaving behind their worries, letting go of the weight, marking an encounter with God, and remembering the time Jesus spent in the grave until Easter morning.

This liturgy is structured around Jesus’ last words. Each reading is followed by a short prayer; each prayer is followed by silence; each silence ends with a song. Our music for the service included a combination of classic hymns, spirituals, and songs from Taizé and Iona. The musical accompaniment became increasingly spare as the service progressed, as each of the six candles in front was extinguished and the sanctuary lights were gradually dimmed. The length of the silences was also increased through the service.

Instead of extinguishing the last candle, one person carried it out and set it, still lit, on the table where people were invited to leave their stones.

At the end of the service, in near darkness, a solo voice sang one verse of “What Wondrous Love Is This,” unaccompanied.

Gathering Words
All you who pass this way
look and see the shadow of sin.
All you who pass this way
look and see the weight of the world.
All you who pass this way
look and see the suffering of our Savior.
All you who pass this way
look and see the sorrow of Jesus Christ.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. (based on Lamentations 1:12)

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

The Stone of Condemnation

Reading: Luke 23:32-34

Prayer
Forgiving Christ, when the world condemns us, when wrong is done to us, when we carry the weight of things that are too much to forgive, come alongside us in the
darkness and give us the grace to be forgiven and forgiving.

Silence

Song: “Before the World Began” (John Bell, Wild Goose Resource Group)

The Stone of Separation

Reading: Luke 23:35-43

Prayer
Reconciling Christ, we are weighed down by sin and separation, a world that is not at peace, a people who are not whole. You reached out to the thief, you welcomed him to God’s side. Come alongside us in the darkness and bring grace and peace to everything that is broken.

Silence

Song: “Jesus, Remember Me” PH 599, PsH 217, SFL 168, SNC 143, WR 285

The Stone of Sorrow

Reading: John 19:25-27

Prayer
Loving Jesus, we carry the weight of the people we love. We are concerned for their sorrows and suffering. Our care for them is deep, and sometimes there is not much we can do. Come alongside us in the darkness and cradle the ones we love in your strong hands.

Silence

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

The Stone of Despair

Reading: Mark 5:33-34

Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, you know what it is to feel that God is far away. You know what it is to call out for God’s presence. Come alongside us in the darkness and help us call out for God.

Silence

Song: “Our Darkness” (Jacques Berthier, Les Presses de Taizé)

The Stone of Suffering

Reading: John 19:28-30

Prayer
Suffering Savior, in all our thirst, in all our sickness, in all our longing, in all our pain, you are there. Come alongside us in the darkness and walk with us through all our suffering.

Silence

Song: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” PH 363, SFL 214, SNC 130, TH 611, WR 506

The Stone of Death

Reading: Luke 23:44-49

Prayer
Dearest Jesus, even in death you are with us. When we mourn, when we are afraid, when we come to our own end, you have been there too. Come alongside us in the darkness and carry us through death to life.

Silence

Song: “Oh, Brother Jesus” (John Bell, Wild Goose Resource Group)

Silence

Solo: “What Wondrous Love Is This” CH 314, PH 85, PsH 379, SFL 169, TH 261, WR 257

We leave in silence

[As you leave you are invited to place your stone beneath the Christ candle in the back—leaving behind your worries, letting go of the weight, marking an encounter with God, and remembering the time Jesus spent in the grave until Easter morning.]