Nothing but the Blood

A Dramatic Retelling of the Events of Holy Week

This service was planned using art by John August Swanson as described below. More information about purchasing, rights, and the works themselves can be found at johnaugustswanson.com. A CD called “What Wondrous Love” with these images and more is available at eyekons.com/church_image_banks/cd_collections.

As with all Reformed Worship articles, you are encouraged to adapt this drama for your own context. Consider finding different art, commissioning artists from your own congregation to illustrate each movement, or inviting your congregation’s children or youth to create art for this service. You may also want to have a physical cross present for this dramatic retelling, particularly for the third movement, “The Crucifixion.”
—JB

Jerusalem

Scripture Teller: (spoken from an aisle while walking toward the front of the sanctuary)

Picture this. The noisy, bustling streets of Jerusalem teem with people scurrying here and there, making last-minute preparations for the Passover. One of the most important Jewish festivals, Passover celebrates how God rescued the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians. Now, as the celebration draws near, many of the Jews secretly hope that perhaps this is the time when God will rescue them from the rule of the Romans.

Nearby, Jesus walks toward Jerusalem with his disciples. He has been telling them lately that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be killed, and on the third day rise again.”

The disciples don’t understand what Jesus means. You see, they regard him as the Messiah, but the Jews believe that such a messiah will come in strength and power to wipe out their enemies and restore the Temple. He will reestablish the throne of David and be God’s representative to Israel and Israel’s representative to God. The Messiah is not Isaiah’s “suffering servant.” The suffering will be for his enemies—or so they think.

“Nothing but the Blood” (sung or spoken) TH 307

Leader: What can wash away my sin?
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Leader: What can make me whole again?
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Robert Lowry, 1876, P.D.

The Passover

Scripture Teller: (spoken in front of the Lord’s Supper table)

The disciples and Jesus are reclining at the table, sharing the Passover meal. Suddenly, Jesus takes the bread and says, “Take it; this is my body.”

The disciples are confused. They are celebrating the sacrifice of a perfect lamb, the blood that had been smeared on doorposts so many years ago to save God’s people. But Jesus isn’t finished. He takes the cup and proclaims, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

“Nothing but the Blood” (sung or spoken)

Leader: For my pardon this I see—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Leader: For my cleansing, this my plea—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The Crucifixion

Scripture Teller: (spoken at the cross)

Here we are. At the cross. The past twenty-four hours of betrayal, trials, mocking, torture, and deep, deep anguish have taken their toll on the man hanging here among common criminals, with not a shred of dignity to his holy, precious name.

It is here that we hear our words echo: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It is here that we hear the words of Isaiah echo: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

(pause)

Waiting. Watching. Hearing the ragged gasps of breath from a man who just days before had been hailed as a King. As N.T. Wright observes, “The pain and tears of all the years [are] met together on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven join[s] with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future [i]s poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, [draw] themselves together into a final scream of desolation.” (Wright, N.T. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, Harper SanFrancisco, 2006, p. 111)

On the cross, Jesus cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As he breathes his last, the curtain of the temple, four inches thick, which separates the people from God, tears from top to bottom. The sky is dark and all creation seems to be wailing.

Nothing but the Blood” (sung or spoken)

Leader: Nothing can for sin atone—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Leader: Naught of good that I have done—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The celebration

Scripture Teller: (spoken while kneeling at cross)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that all who believe in Jesus might not perish but be rescued and renewed, and have everlasting life.”

(pause)

This (gesture to cross) is not the end of the story. Jesus’s body was laid in a tomb, and three days later, he rose again! He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus. The great High Priest, whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for us.

We have been given a tremendous gift. We have been given new life. We have been rescued and are being renewed. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He invites us into the Triune relationship he shares eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the great mediator and loves it when we call upon his name.

“Nothing but the Blood” (sung or spoken)

Leader: This is all my hope and peace—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Leader: This is all my righteousness—
All: Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Jana Dykhuis serves as a worship intern at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.