This service is comprised of seven movements, each of which focuses on one of Jesus’ seven last words and consists of a gospel reading, a meditation, and a congregational response. It combines elements traditional to the Stations of the Cross, Tre Ore, and Tenebrae services, as well as a few subtle dramatic devices of the Passion Play.
To lead this service, you will need one person to represent Jesus, and seven readers (one per movement), including a communion server and two “soldier” personae who will help move the cross around. You will also need a song leader, musicians, and technical staff to run the projector and sound.
You’ll need a computer with PowerPoint, a projector, a lapel mic for “Jesus,” and a mic on a stand or podium for readers. Before the service, create the PowerPoint slides referenced in the service. Some slides feature words only; some feature images. The images by artist Jan Richardson referenced here are downloadable for a fee at www.janrichardsonimages.com.
Materials and Props
- deep chime and mallet or bell (or a sound file embedded in the PowerPoint)
- life-sized cross with stand
- red ribbons, each about 4 inches (10 cm) long, one per person in your congregation
- fine-tip permanent markers
- baskets or other containers to hold ribbons and markers as they’re passed throughout the congregation
- two hammers and a box of nails (you’ll need at least one nail per person in your congregation)
- twigs, approximately 4-6 inches (10-15 cm), two per person
- twine, one 6-inch (15 cm) length per person
- 7 candles and a snuffer
Create a program listing the seven movements and crediting the resources used in each to help congregants follow along.
Prelude: “Passion” (Peter Gabriel)
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
[“Jesus” drags cross up aisle and onto stage, where he places it flat on the floor, not in its stand. One other reader (“soldier”) helps as needed.]
Reading: John 19:17-18; Luke 23:34a
(NOTE: For each movement, the reader reads the gospel text as narration and “Jesus” says his own lines.)
[Reader snuffs a candle. Jesus sits on one side of stage, near the cross, but with enough room for others to move around it.]
We aren’t here tonight to wallow in guilt or celebrate darkness or glorify death, but we do acknowledge that guilt and darkness and death are part of our story. Jesus died rescuing us. Jesus, quite simply, is our hero. He threw himself in front of a freight train loaded with death to push us out of its path. We’ve helped load that freight train every time we’ve chosen death over life, but Jesus derailed that death train with his own body. Tonight we remember this heroism, not as an exercise of survivors’ guilt, but of gratitude.
Jesus Christ gave his life for ours—willingly and with great intention. Over the course of cosmic eons and all of human history, for decades of living in the dust of Judea and years of teaching and healing, during the week in Jerusalem we call holy, and for hours on the cross, Jesus lived and died for us. He did this for the joy set before him that we may live abundantly. Not to condemn the world, but to save it. Not to make us cringe in shame, unable to look him in the eye, but for the express purpose of enabling us to look for him and see him.
We don’t come here tonight to nail Jesus to the cross all over again. We come here to reflect on what we are doing and on what he has done—to get our heads on straight and our hearts in line so we won’t reenact that part of the drama where the people of God didn’t recognize God in their midst and responded with violence when God came to be with them. Tonight we nail our sins to the cross and acknowledge them for the instruments of death they are.
Response of Confession
Music: “Stigmata” (Peter Gabriel), played while people write
[At the end of each row have a basket of ribbons and fine-tip permanent markers available to be passed down. Invite congregants to write on the ribbon the sin that keeps them from gratitude, from experiencing or passing on God’s love that came to save the world, from recognizing God for who he is. After a few moments, pass around baskets/collection plates to collect the ribbons and pens. Remind people that at this point in the story of Christ dying for us, our sins are all we have to offer.]
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
[Two readers (“soldiers”) nail collected ribbons to the cross throughout this movement.]
Reading: Luke 23:32-33, 39-43
[Reader snuffs a candle.]
Meditation: Poem “The Good Thief” by Jenn Cavanaugh
Remember me to the mind of God if God
Looks like you, bloodied and close
(Were this hand not impaled)
Enough to touch, if God
Snuffs the fiery sword with nervous flesh,
If God props this tree of death
Against the wall,
A ladder up the tree of life
To your estate,
If God consents
To be broken and entered.
—Originally published in Anglican Theological Review (vol. 95, #4).
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Congregational Response: In Christ, God forgets our sins and remembers us. What God forgets is truly forgotten. What God remembers is remembered forever.Assurance of Pardon: 1 Peter 2:24
[Reader demonstrates how to make crosses from twigs and twine and invites congregation to leave them somewhere outdoors after they leave as reminders that what God forgets is truly forgotten and what God remembers is remembered forever.]
“Dear woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.”
[Jesus and “soldiers” place cross upright in its stand. Jesus remains standing by it. Soldiers exit.]
Reading: John 19:25-27
[Reader snuffs candle. Jesus sits in front of cross.]
On Good Friday, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and God the Father both lost a son. They both loved him dearly. They both watched a part of themselves die. They both grieved. One reason the church has always held Mary so dear is that she puts a human face on the suffering love of God and a godly face on human love and suffering.
Instrumental music: “Stabat Mater” (Pergolesi)
Song: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (sung a cappella) LUYH 168, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Reading: Mark 15:33-34
Meditation: A Reading of Psalm 22:1-11
Responsive Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
“I am thirsty.”
Reading: John 19:28-29
Meditation: A Reading of Psalm 22:15, 19, 22-31
[Jesus stands with server during invitation to the table, stands behind the table while communion is served, and then sits on steps in front of cross.]
Augustine wrote that God thirsts to be thirsted for. On the cross, Jesus said: “I thirst!” but they didn’t give him what he thirsted for. He thirsted for them, and they gave him vinegar.
Come tonight and satisfy his thirst for you and let him satisfy your hunger and thirst and strengthen you to serve others as he served us.
Song: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (sung a cappella) LUYH 175, PH 100/101, PsH 384, TH 252, WR 261
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Reading: Matthew 27:51-52
Meditation: “Saying Six,” designed and animated by Bruce Stanley, meditation by Martin Wroe (free resource available at tinyurl.com/sevenlastsayings)
Responsive Reading: Psalm 31:5, 7, 13b-16, 19-24
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, Lord, my faithful God.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.
Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.
“It is finished.”
Reading: John 19:28-30
Meditation: “Day 7—Watch This Space” by SGM Lifewords (free resource available at tinyurl.com/lifewordsday7)
“Be strong and take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” [spoken three times, followed by a moment of silence.]
The service is concluded. Please stay a while to pray or exit quietly. If you would like to pray with someone, move up to the front pew and you will be met.
“Oh, God, Where Are You Now” (Sufjan Stevens)
“It Is Accomplished” (Peter Gabriel)