The Path to the Cross
- Four actors (no speaking parts)
- Narrator/Scripture reader
- Two people to make the necessary sounds back stage (mic’d)
- Sound and light technicians
This service is designed as a tableau vivant, a sort of human slide-show.
Four actors freeze into various “living statue” poses as described in the stage directions while a narrator reads from Scripture. All actors are in black clothing. Pick one actor to play Jesus while the remaining three represent various characters. If you like, you may distinguish Jesus with a stole or other symbol.
All the lights are dim except for simple stage lighting, a focused light on the cross, and a candle that is lit off to the side up front but will be blown out at the end.
Our congregation uses hymnals, so it was necessary to bring up the lights enough to read the hymnals for each song.
Before beginning the service, explain to the congregation that every time they hear the bell ring they should close their eyes. (While their eyes are closed, the actors freeze in their new position.) They can open their eyes again when the narrator begins to speak. Maybe do one or two very short practices so they get the idea.
Also, alert the congregation that they will play the part of the crowd, and when signaled by “the guards,” they are invited to stand and take the pose of an angry crowd demanding Christ’s death. (Remind them that they are to freeze and remain silent). Invite them to stand and practice their pose.
A notes that a bell-like sound needs to be made to indicate that the congregation should close its eyes and the actors form the next tableau.
Stage directions are indicated in [italics]
A indicates that a particular sound needs to be created. You will need to find sound recordings of, or physically create the sound of:
- a sword being unsheathed
- a slap
- a whip cracking (can use a leather belt)
- a gavel
- a hammer striking a board
- dice rattling and being cast
The Story Begins
Narrator: Today the carpenter’s hands are nailed to a cross, the King of kings is crowned with thorns and wears the purple robe of mockery. Today he sets us free, himself imprisoned on a tree. Today is God’s Friday.
For more information on tableaux, see the following articles from RW:
RW 75 Freeze Frame: Dramatic Scripture Telling Using Tableaux — by Tom S. Long
RW 77 Nativity Dramas: Why an Ancient Practice Might Work Well for the MTV Generation — by Todd Farley
Jesus Prays to be Glorified
Jesus is off to one side, praying. The disciples are sleeping on the other side, leaning against each other.
After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.”
Jesus moves to the sleeping disciples and places his hands over them to indicate that he is praying for them.
“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.
“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.
“Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
Jesus moves front stage and spreads his arms out, indicating that he is praying for all gathered.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
“What Wondrous Love”
Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Jesus and a disciple are walking, with two accusers on the opposite side of the stage, posed as if looking for them.
After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Two accusers confront Jesus and Simon Peter.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I Am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said, “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
Depict the motion of Simon Peter striking the ear, the reaction of the guard, and Jesus stepping forward to block Simon’s arm.
Sword being unsheathed.
Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
So the soldiers, their commanding officer, and the Temple guards arrested Jesus and tied him up. First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest at that time. Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”
Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus.
High Priest sits on highest point of the stage (or on a box). Jesus kneels, hands as if bound, with a guard on one side and another a step away but within distance to “slap” Jesus in next tableau.
Inside the high priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them. Jesus replied, “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said.”
One of the guards slaps Jesus with the back of his hand, and Jesus reacts to the slap.
Sound of a slap.
Then one of the Temple guards standing nearby slapped Jesus across the face. “Is that the way to answer the high priest?” he demanded.
Jesus replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?”
Then Annas bound Jesus and sent him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Jesus is sitting in a chair (or a box), or kneeling, still bound. Pilate is standing front stage. Two guards are standing within the congregation/crowd, who are invited to stand.
Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
“We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.
“Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.
“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)
Pilate turns to face Jesus.
Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
Pilate turns from Jesus to crowd/congregation, which is charged with energy and hate.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
Jesus kneels with his back to congregation, one soldier acts as if whipping him, another as if putting a crown on his head, and a third as if holding a robe. Crowd/congregation and guards are relaxed.
Sound of a whip cracking three times.
Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.
Pilate grabs Jesus by the scruff of his neck and presents him to the crowd. Soldiers become guards once again in the midst of the crowd/congregation and act as if yelling, “Crucify him!”
Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”
When they saw him, the leading priests and Temple guards began shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”
The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”
Pilate and Jesus return center stage with Jesus on chair/box and Pilate standing as if accusing him. Crowd/congregation and guards are relaxed.
When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”
Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”
When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again.
Pilate sits on box front stage, Jesus stands bound beside him. Crowd/congregation raise their fists.
Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement. It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate said to the people, “Look, here is your king!”
“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!”
“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.
Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus away.
Gavel sounds three times.
“Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended”, stanzas 1-3
Jesus’ Path to the Cross
Jesus in walking motion, as if pulling a cross (could use an actor as if he/she were a cross), a guard is walking behind, and Simon is walking innocently towards them.
The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha. They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.
“Go to Dark Gethsemane”
Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
Jesus is lying on the ground in a cross formation. One guard is acting as if he is nailing Christ on the cross. Other actors are off to the side, arguing about the sign.
Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull.
Sound of a hammer striking wood.
There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.
Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”
Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”
Jesus is standing upright as if on the cross (could be on a box). Two actors are playing dice, one actor is weeping.
Sound of dice rattling and being cast as the next paragraph is read.
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his clothes among the four of them. They also took his robe, but it was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. So they said, “Rather than tearing it apart, let’s throw dice for it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among themselves and threw dice for my clothing.” So that is what they did.
Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
“Were You There,” stanzas 1 and 2
Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus and two others are in a semi-circle, depicting each of them on a cross. Weeping person remains before Jesus.
Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture, he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.
After a pause the actors leave the stage, the person weeping pauses to blow out the candle. All other lights are cut except for the spotlight on the cross.
Reading of Psalm 22
Congregation leaves in silence.