Editor’s Note: While some churches have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter Vigil services, others find themselves holding one service in which to encapsulate the drama and depth of all that occurred in those three days. It is for that second group of churches that this service is designed. Using Scripture, music, poetry, and art, this service takes the worshiper on a three-day journey from Maundy Thursday to the darkness of the Easter Vigil.
If your church celebrates each of these days, it is possible to use this resource as the backdrop of your services and, by adding additional elements such as a meditation, create three separate yet cohesive services. If you do that and are willing to share your services with the wider Reformed Worship community, please email them to us at email@example.com. —JB
Visuals: Place seven lit purple candles, plus one lit white Christ candle, at the front of the sanctuary. Extinguish/remove candles as instructed in the service plan that follows.
Song: “Lift High the Cross” (st. 1, 4, 5) LUYH 264, PH 371, PsH 373, TH 263, WR 287
It’s a dark day to be gathered here, Jesus;
it’s a barren place, this—filled with shadows and death.
But we are here because we need to be here;
the shadows of this day are our shadows, the death is our death.
Now, as we worship, your cross becomes for us a mirror,
reflecting back to us our own brokenness, sinfulness, and darkness.
And as we reflect on your love-inspired sacrifice,
we discover an open doorway to life.
We gather at the foot of your cross
because we desperately need to be here.
—Written by John van de Laar, © Sacredise 2008 (www.sacredise.com). (All works by John van de Laar in this article may be used and copied freely if the copyright notice is included on all copies.)
Song: “What Wondrous Love Is This” (st. 1, 2) LUYH 164, PH 85, PsH 379, TH 261, WR 257
About the Artwork
This service was accompanied by paintings from artist Ovide Bighetty. Bighetty is a First Nations artist who works mainly in acrylics on many different materials, including birchbark, wood, hide, and rock. These paintings are reprinted by permission of the Indian Metis Christian Fellowship, which commissioned them. Reproduction and exhibition rights belong with IMCF. Prints of these paintings are available from IMCF (email firstname.lastname@example.org). Proceeds support the cost of the commissions, exhibitions, and fundraising for the ministry.
Scripture: Matthew 26:17-30. [We suggest treating this passage as a readers’ theater, with individuals reading the parts of Jesus and Judas, a small group of people reading the parts spoken by the disciples, and a narrator reading the rest.]
Praise and Confession
It seems impossible that anyone would give what you did
to save men and women like us;
But you gave yourself freely for our sakes.
It seems unimaginable that anyone could love the way you did,
including outcasts, rebels, and even your persecutors, and refuse to strike back;
But you loved so much that you laid down your life for our sakes.
It seems inconceivable that anyone would offer the forgiveness that you did
even as nails pierced your flesh, and the cross was stained with your blood;
But you did not hold our sin against us,
and took on yourself the suffering that should have been ours.
Forgive us that we have allowed greed and violence,
pride and deceit, bitterness and coldness to have a place in our hearts;
And fill us again with your immeasurable grace, your inexhaustible love,
and your unconquerable life, that we may be changed,
and may express our love and devotion through lives of worship. Amen.
Prayer of Consecration
In your love and mercy, Holy Father, give us your Spirit so that through these gifts of bread and wine we may be united more fully with Christ and with each other. Lift our hearts so that in all the troubles and sorrows of this life we may continue in hope for the new life in your eternal kingdom. This we pray in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
[The people gather in a large circle around the cross—serving elders begin the distribution at the top of the circle with the words, “The body of Christ broken for you,” “The blood of Christ poured out for you.” New circles form until all are served.]
Poem: “Scene: Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane” by Henry J. Baron (Taken from Talking with God: Prayers, Meditations & Conversations for God-seekers, by Henry J. Baron.) [use two readers—one reading the normal text, one reading the italics]
You made me human, Father, yet more than human:
I know what lies ahead.
I feel their spittle burn on my cheeks.
I see the contempt in their eyes.
I hear the murderous screams of the mobs in my ears.
And my human self is filled with dread.
You asked me to humble myself—well, I’ve done that.
I had no place to call my own.
I left my father and my mother.
I’ve been shunned and scorned.
I’ve been accused of lawbreaking and blasphemy.
Isn’t that enough?
Why must there be this human sacrifice for sin?
Why all this bloodshed?
Why give the enemy such cause to celebrate?
Why not use your power to save by word instead of deed?
Why kill your own son?
Please, Father, take this cup from me!
Your will be done.
But Father, what makes this all so unbearable is the treachery.
Even now I sense that they’re gathering—
the ruffians with clubs and swords,
with cowardly spirits and evil souls.
They’re coming, Father, to arrest me like a thief.
The shame of that is bad enough—
but I can’t face being stabbed in the back by friends.
We’ve been together for three years.
We’ve fished and prayed together.
Why must they turn on me?
What have I done to them?
Why must this be part of it?
And if Judas must be Judas, why cannot Peter be the Rock?
Peter was so special, so committed, so loyal.
Why Peter too?
Father, I know what awaits me.
I know that this is what I was born for, what I left home for.
But it’s so close now, Father—and I’m so afraid.
I don’t feel ready.
I can’t face this all alone.
My enemies are coming; my friends lie sleeping.
Soon they will all desert me.
Is there none who will stand by me?
Oh, Father, do not forsake me, for the agony of aloneness is
worse than death.
Save me from that hell, I pray.
You will take up their infirmities.
You will carry their sorrows.
Only then will you save them from the pit.
The way of suffering, darkness, and death lies ahead.
You must walk it alone, all alone.
But I will be waiting for you, Son.
I will be waiting.
I ascend the judgment bench,
wrinkle my nose at the vile stench
of political plot born of jealousy,
and declare, “I will set this Jesus free
for I find no cause against him.”
The priests, enraged, stir up the crowd,
goad them to protest aloud.
And so, the tug of war begins.
My undernourished conscience
is certain of his innocence,
so I propose a reprimand
but fail to meet the crowd’s demand.
“This braggart calls himself a king,
too proud to kiss the emperor’s ring.
Is that not a crime in Roman eyes?”
I scan the crowd for Caesar’s spies
then ask, “Are you the King of the Jews?
Speak up, man! Why do you refuse?
You do not seem to understand:
Your heart’s beat ends at my command.”
Scribes and elders lift the cry,
“Free Barabbas! This man crucify!
Kill him who claims to be God’s son.”
Alarmed, I ask, “Are you the One?”
(My good wife’s words come back to me.)
The mob yells, “Do not set him free!”
Frantic, I flog him according to law.
“Look! Here! I have beaten him raw.
Surely your charges are now satisfied.”
But the mob shouts, “Let him be crucified!”
Sighing, I wash my hands in their sight.
“His blood be on you this day turned night,
for I find no cause against him.”
Jesus wasn’t in jail long.
Abhorrence of his crime
demanded as instant a death
as courts and schedules
could afford. The Lord of life
had violated treasured
values and upset
of temple and government.
They could not forgive him
what they knew they thought he did.
The sky peels back to purple
and thunder slaps the thighs of heaven,
and all the tears of those who grieve
fly up to clouds are released
and drench the earth.
The ones who see and hear
that all is lost.
The only one named Savior
upon a cross.
The ones who believed and loved
All night long
the angels weep.