Our worship planning team decided to present the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death, and burial from the perspectives of those who were there. We chose six characters from the passion narratives and asked six people from the congregation to tell their stories. They were encouraged to immerse themselves in their character by reading the Scripture passage and by familiarizing themselves with the dramatic reading—even memorizing it, if they chose.
We adapted the first-person narratives (p. 25) from devotions written by David Feddes for the devotional TODAY (March 1994), published bimonthly by Back to God Ministries International (www.thisistoday.net).
The setting was simple. In the dimly lit sanctuary, a spotlight shone on the cross. One person read all of the Scripture passages for the service. As the gospel portion of each event was read, each character walked up to the stage, turned around, and told his or her story. Some paced back and forth, some gestured toward the cross. All conveyed the emotions their characters felt: grief, regret, scorn, amazement, awe.
Some of the stories were followed by a choral response or congregational song. The sermon focused on the words of the centurion spoken after Jesus died: “Surely this man was the Son of God”—a remarkable testimony that came not from a disciple but from a battle-scarred Roman soldier.
We used the following words to make a seamless transition to the Lord’s Supper:
“We’ve listened to the stories of those who stood beneath Jesus’ cross. They experienced his love—even in his pain. They saw him suffer for their sins. Their faith deepened and they came to understand who Jesus was: truly, the Son of God. We, too, stand before Jesus’ cross—remembering, believing, forgiven—and looking forward to his Easter resurrection.”
The congregation sang songs during the distribution of the bread and wine that gave voice to remembering the cross, confessing faith in Christ,
and proclaiming his return.
Beneath the Cross . . . We Gather
Call to Worship
Opening Hymn: “Were You There” CH 315, PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, WR 283
Opening Prayer (from The Worship Sourcebook, L1.4.4)
Holy God, we come to worship
in the gathering shadows of Jesus’ suffering and death.
We come with his friends,
the men and women who have followed him
in every place and generation,
to live once again this story of service and betrayal,
of weakness and of courage.
We come to witness your love in action.
Be with us, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Choral Anthem: “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (Keith and Kristyn Getty; arr. T. Fettke) CSW 26
Beneath the Cross . . . We Listen
Scripture: Matthew 27:1-10
Response: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” (st. 1, 2) PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262
Simon of Cyrene’s Story
Scripture: Mark 15:21-22
The Soldier’s Story
Scripture: John 19:19-24
Response: “When the Son of God Was Dying” (st. 1) SNT 104
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” CH 316, PH 98, PsH 383, RL 300, RN 235, TH 247, TWC 221, UMH 286, WR 284
Scripture: John 19:25-27
Response: “When the Son of God Was Dying” (st. 3) SNT 104
“At the Cross” (Joseph D. Rojahn; arr. Lani Smith)
The Dying Thief’s Story
Scripture: Luke 23:39-43
Response: “Blood Was on the Crown of Thorns” (st. 1, 2 SNT 102
“Jesus, Remember Me” PH 599, PsH 217, SFL 168, SNC 143, WR 285
The Centurion’s Story
Scripture: Mark 15:33-39
Response: “Blood Was on the Crown of Thorns (st. 3,6,8,10) SNT 102
“Meekness and Majesty” (st. 1, 2) SNC 109, WR 97
Message: “It All Comes Down to This”
Beneath the Cross . . . We Eat and Drink
Anthem: “Oh, to See the Dawn (The Power of the Cross)” (Keith and Kristyn Getty; arr. Hayes) SNT 105
The Lord’s Supper
We give thanks to God the Father that our Savior, Jesus Christ, before he suffered, gave us this memorial of his sacrifice, until he comes again. At his last supper, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me.” For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Therefore we proclaim our faith as signed and sealed in this sacrament:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Congregation of Jesus Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for all who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation. All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him as Lord, are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord. The gifts of God for the people of God!
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321/324, PH 100/101, PsH 384, SFL 166, TH 252, WR 261
“There Is a Redeemer” CH 308, SNC145, SWM 128, WR 117
Parting Hymn: “Lift High the Cross” (st. 1, 4, 7) CH 450, PH 371, PsH 373, SFL 171, SWM 243, TH 263, WR 287
Judas: Matthew 27:1-10
It started with “borrowing” a few coins now and then from the common purse. Nothing big—and besides, I deserved a little something for my work as treasurer. Before long, I was helping myself to a bigger share. I needed the money, and nobody seemed to miss it. And then came my big opportunity: a one-time payoff to assist in a secret arrest. They’ll eventually get Jesus anyway, with or without my help, so I might as well be the one to cash in on it.
But now it’s finally hitting me: What started with pinching a few coins here and there has led to me being an accessory to murder. And the victim is a man who treated me with nothing but perfect kindness and friendship for three years, a person who called me “friend” even as I betrayed him. The money I thought I loved disgusts me now. I tried to give it back, but the men who paid me couldn’t care less.
I wish I could undo what I’ve done—but it’s too late. What I’ve done sickens me. I threw the money down. And now I’m going to do the only thing I can think of . . . exactly what I deserve.
Simon of Cyrene: Mark 15:21-22
My pilgrimage was almost over. I’d traveled all the way from Cyrene in Libya for the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. I was coming up the road on my way into the city when I met the huge crowd of people all staring at something . . . or someone.
Three men carrying stout wooden beams were being nudged along at sword-point, headed for crucifixion. One looked like he should have been dead already—his back bloody, his face beaten to a pulp, his eyes swollen nearly shut. Some sadist had even jammed a wreath of thorns into his scalp. It was awful . . . but what could I do for him? I began to move on.
A rough hand grabbed my shoulder. I turned to see the bloody prisoner pinned under the heavy beam. He couldn’t carry it another step. The soldiers were telling me to help him. Of all the people here . . . why me? I’d just made that long trip in from Cyrene, and now I was supposed to lug a cross uphill for an exhausted criminal?
As it turns out, my life would never be the same. The troublesome task forced on me became the greatest privilege any man could ever have—because the bloody stranger whose cross I carried was the Son of God, my living Lord. My sons, Alexander and Rufus, were with me that day. They too became followers of Jesus. We know, better than most, that anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Jesus cannot be his disciple.
The Soldier: John 19:19-24
You get used to it after a while. The first crucifixion is always the hardest. The naked flesh, the oozing blood, the buzzing flies, the first shrieks of pain followed by hours of gasping suffocation—the first time you see it, it turns your stomach. But after a while you can handle it. And if you’re lucky, you might even get a little something for yourself.
Most of the time, you don’t know the people you’re crucifying. You’re a soldier, and your job is to do what you’re told. But this is different. It’s hard to resist having a little fun with a fellow labeled “King of the Jews.” Before you nail him up, give him a stick for a scepter, a crown made of thorns, rough him up a bit, and then bow down to “the king.” Way more entertaining than your average execution.
Today there’s something for everybody. All four soldiers get a piece of clothing they can sell at a local pawnshop. But what about that seamless tunic? It would be a shame to cut it up. Hey, how about a game to pass the time? Calvary Casino! Winner gets the tunic.
See? It’s not so hard to do this. After a while, nothing shocks you any more.
Mary: John 19:25-27
When my son was just a baby, being dedicated at the temple, old Simeon said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” That prophecy has echoed often in my ears. At the time I had no idea what those words could mean. Now I know. My firstborn is nailed to a cross. This grief . . . it’s beyond imagining.
John is beside me, weighed down by his own sorrow. He left everything to follow Jesus . . . awed by his miracles, transfixed by his teaching. Over the years he became a close friend to my son. And now this Friend beyond all friends is dying.
John and I stand together near the cross, our world in ruins. Then we hear the voice we both love speaking to us. Through my tears I look into the tender eyes of my son. “Dear woman, here is your son.” I turn my head and John’s eyes meet mine. “Here is your mother,” Jesus says.
I am not alone, and neither is John. Together we will get through this.
The Dying Thief: Luke 23:39-43
My life was a waste—a complete disaster. The world would have been better off without me. In the end it did get rid of me. My crimes and cruelty got me here, and I deserve this death.
At first I cursed the guy hanging next to me, right along with the other criminal. But then I got to thinking: “If God is real, before long, I’ll be facing him.” I knew I was on the cross because I deserved it . . . but Jesus was totally innocent. It struck me then that maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be the end of Jesus. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but I became more and more convinced of it. So I said it: “Jesus, remember me. . . .”
In heaven, there’ll be no more pain. No more sorrow. No more hatred. No more guilt. Only joy, peace, delight, and acceptance. Jesus will be there too . . . radiant beyond description. And I’ll be with him forever!
The Centurion: Mark 15:33-39
I’ve never seen anything like it. He turns down the offer of wine mixed with myrrh to dope him up and ease the pain. Seems he’d rather suffer the worst with a clear head. The soldiers strip him naked, spread him out, hammer spikes into his wrists and heels, hoist him up—and what does he say? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” There’s something unearthly about him.
At noon everything turns dark. It stays that way for three hours. Then, around three o’clock, after six hours of hanging there, when you’d expect him to have no energy left, he suddenly shouts in a loud voice, “It is finished!” It’s almost seems like he’s in control somehow; he decides when enough is enough. “Father,” he says quietly, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then he dies.
That’s when the earthquake hits. Is God himself reacting to this? People are staggering, rocks are shattering, as if somehow Jesus’ death has shifted the entire universe. Surely this man was the Son of God!