This extended reading is based on the “I am” statements of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John. Are the disciples’ hopes in Christ as the bread of life, the light of the world, and other images being destroyed in the events of Good Friday? Or are they being fulfilled?
We used this reading in conjunction with a sermon series based loosely on “I Am—The Sayings of Jesus: A Series for Lent and Holy Week” (RW 42). A complete service would include introductory and possibly concluding material, as well as songs at each of the section breaks. Without songs, the service takes just under thirty minutes. If screens are available, they can be used during the reading as a guide to the sections and objects.
The service needs four readers (Narrator (N), Hope (H), John 1(J1), and John 2 (J2)), plus two object handlers. The focus should be on the objects rather than the readers. Spacing and lighting can help accomplish this. The room should start getting progressively darker toward the end.
- table with black cloth
- loaf of bread
- large candle
- small candle
- small white plastic tablecloth
- gate (needs to fit on top of the overturned bridge to act as a sealed tomb)
- staff (which will be broken)
- lily plant
- wooden bridge (a very short table; the gate should fit as a seal when the table is overturned)
- pitcher with grape juice
- juice mixed with soil, wood chips, and soap in a clear container
[Readers should not be seen. Persons handling the objects should be standing behind the table. Objects mentioned below are already in place on or next to the table before the service begins. A small white plastic tablecloth is in the center of the table.]
N: Sisters and brothers, throughout Lent we have been learning about—and challenged to respond to—many of the “I am” statements of Jesus as recorded by John the Evangelist.
H: Taken together, the “I am” sayings paint a simple and beautiful portrait of our Savior.
N: We want to keep that picture in mind as we listen to John’s telling of the Good Friday story tonight.
H: To help us do that, we will use visible reminders of the “I am” statements—objects that represent each of them.
N: These will serve, however imperfectly, to help us recall who Jesus said he was.
H: We will also use these objects to visualize, in a small way, how Jesus’ claims are opposed and even seem to be ripped apart as the Good Friday story unfolds.
N: Let’s start, then, with a reminder of the “I am” sayings of Jesus.
From John 6:
[Each object is presented to the congregation in turn, typically by lifting, displaying, and returning it to its place. First, a loaf of bread is presented during the following verses.]
H: “I am the bread of life.”
J1: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
N: From John 8:
[A large candle is lit and presented as the following verses are read. A smaller, unlit candle will also be needed on the table.]
H: “I am the light of the world.”
J2: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
N: From John 10:
[A gate is presented as the following verses are read.]
H: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
J1: “They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”
N: Again, chapter 10. A staff represents the shepherd:
[A staff is presented as the following verses are read.]
H: “I am the good shepherd.”
J2: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
N: From John 11:
[A lily plant is presented as the following verses are read.]
H: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
J1: “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
N: From John 14. A bridge represents the true way back to life with the Father:
[A wooden bridge in front of the table is presented as the following verses are read.]
H: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
J2: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
N: From John 15. The juice of grapes shows the fruitfulness of the vine:
[A cup of grape juice is poured from a pitcher and presented as the following verses are read.]
H: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
J1: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
[The next line is read slowly enough to allow for each object to be lifted and set back in place at the appropriate time.]
N: The bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the true vine.
Jesus has said he is all of these.
Tonight we consider: Do the events of Good Friday destroy our hope that Jesus can truly be these things?
H: Or is it through his suffering and death that Jesus fully becomes what he declared himself to be?
“Here I Am to Worship” Hughes, LUYH 567, SSS 395
N: We begin the story of Good Friday with John 13. As he shares a meal with the disciples on Thursday evening, Jesus has difficult news for them.
J1: “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
J2: His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.
One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.
Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
[From here on, the object handlers portray through their mistreatment of the objects both the abuse Jesus suffered and how his claims seem to be falling apart based on what is happening. During the following verses, a piece is torn out of the loaf of bread, held so it can be seen, then dumped on the table.]
J1: “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
J2: Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him,
J1: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
J2: As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
N: Jesus continued to teach and encourage his disciples. He explained what was to come, and prayed for them as the evening wore on.
Then the light of the world went out into the night.
J1: When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.
On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
J2: Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees.
They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
[During the next lines, the smaller candle is lit from the bigger, then the bigger candle is extinguished. Both are returned to the table. A flower is ripped from the lily plant and tossed on the table.]
N: Those who rejected Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world, the light of life, saw no more in the darkness than their dim torches and lanterns allowed.
J1: Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them:
J2: “Who is it you want?”
J1: “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
J2: “I am he,”
J1: Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Again he asked them,
J2: “Who is it you want?”
J1: “Jesus of Nazareth,” they said. Jesus answered,
J2: “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”
[During the next lines, the good juice is poured back into its pitcher.]
J1: This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
Jesus commanded Peter,
[During the next lines, a nasty juice mix (e.g., with soil, wood chips, and soap) is poured from a clear container into the cup instead, and the cup is set roughly back on the table.]
J2: “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
J1: Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.
They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year.
Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
“What Wondrous Love” Anonymous, LUYH 164, GtG 215, SSS 177
N: The sheep began to distance themselves from the good shepherd.
But two of the disciples hung on as Jesus was questioned at the homes of Annas and Caiaphas.
J2: Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus.
Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door.
J1: The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
J2: He replied, “I am not.”
J1: It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
J2: Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
N: The subdued light of the fire did not protect Peter from further scrutiny.
J1: Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
J2: One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”
[During the next line, the staff is broken in two at a spot partially sawn through beforehand, and the pieces are set roughly down on the table.]
J1: Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
N: Peter’s predicted threefold denial is complete. Fellowship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep is broken.
J2: Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor.
[During the last part of the next line, the bridge is tipped on its side and allowed to fall the last inch or two onto the floor.]
N: The way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus had told the disciples in the upper room that he was on his way to the Father.
What’s more, he had declared that he himself was the way to the Father.
But since then, his path has led from evening fellowship
to betrayal in the garden,
to interrogation at the house of Annas,
to more of the same at the house of Caiaphas,
and now to a sham trial before Pilate.
How can this be the way?
H: Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.”
N: Is this a path that simply leads away from the Father, a path to destruction?
H: Or does the path that creates a way back to the Father go through Golgotha?
J2: By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness [the Jewish leaders] did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
J1: So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
J2: “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
J1: Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
J2: Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
J1: “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
J2: Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
[During the next line the bridge is flipped upside down.]
J1: “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
N: The way, the truth, and the life.
Pilate sees and publicly acknowledges the truth that Jesus is innocent, He sees that the Jewish leaders are distorting the truth to get rid of Jesus.
But Pilate serves a higher master: Rome. And Rome demands that the Jews be kept from riots and rebellion.
So Pilate sets aside the demands of truth and searches for a way to appease the Jewish leaders.
Only truth can set us on the way to the Father! But how can truth triumph when liars rule?
H: Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
N: Has the true way to the faithful Father been lost in a fog of falsehoods?
H: Or is the true way made clear by contrast, by walking a straight and narrow path when those who should be leading Israel to God have turned aside to evil?
N: Pilate begins walking down the road of appeasement.
Might the traditional prisoner release at Passover be used to free Jesus?
No. The Jewish leaders prefer to see the rebel Barabbas freed.
Perhaps a good flogging will satisfy, and the mockery of a kingly robe and crown.
J2: Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
J1: As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
N: Alas, the bottom line for the Jewish leaders is horribly clear now. Execution on a cross for an innocent man?
This is not going well.
J2: From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
J1: When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement. . . . It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
J2: But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
J1: “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
J2: “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
N: The truth will out.
J1: Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
[All but one of the remaining flowers and many of the leaves are ripped off the lily plant and tossed onto the table during the next line.]
N: The way, the truth, and the life.
Pilate pays a steep price to appease the Jewish leaders: a life.
Then again, there are two other men slated for execution that day. Criminals. What is one more death if it quells the angry mob?
How can there be life when the sentence is death?
H: Jesus said, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
N: Will this just be the tragic end of a good man’s life?
H: Or can a man condemned to die be the way back to life with the Father?
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, SSS 163
J2: So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
[The two pieces of the broken staff are held up as a cross during the next line.]
N: The good shepherd no longer carries a staff. He carries a cross. He no longer leads the sheep. He is led—like a lamb to the slaughter.
How can this condemned man be a good shepherd to us?
H: When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep,” he also said,
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
N: Is this shepherd a pawn to be sacrificed to satisfy the political needs of earthly rulers?
H: Or is this the chosen act of a good shepherd, sacrificing his own life to protect his sheep from the just wrath of a greater power?
J1: (At Golgotha) they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
[The loaf is completely torn up during the next line, the pieces dumped on the table.]
N: The bread of life is ripped and torn, feeding only the schemes of evil leaders bent on preserving their own power.
The hands that broke bread for the five thousand are fastened to a cross.
How can we receive nourishment from such bread?
H: Jesus said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
N: Have evil forces torn this bread apart so that it will be nothing more than stale crust and dry crumbs?
H: Or can the breaking of this bread provide the spiritual nourishment our souls so desperately need?
J2: Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.
J1: The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
J2: Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
J1: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
J2: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
J1: Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
[The cup of bad wine is picked up during the next line.]
J2: A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
[The cup of bad wine is dumped out over the torn bread during the next line.]
J1: When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
N: The true vine has finished drinking the cup of God’s wrath. The result is death!
Jesus had said, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”
How can we be fruitful if we remain a part of a dead vine? What fruit can such a vine produce?
H: Jesus equated fruitfulness with love, saying, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
N: Has this vine been chopped down because it cannot produce the fruit that was promised?
H: Or was the final suffering and dying of this vine the ultimate fruit of love?
[During the next line, the smaller candle is extinguished.]
J2: (Jesus) gave up his spirit.
N: The light of the world is extinguished.
The spiritual forces of darkness declare victory. No longer will evil be exposed by light. No longer will people see a way out.
How can we find our way when the only true light is gone? Why would the light have stumbled into so great a darkness?
H: When he called himself the light of the world, Jesus also said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he. . . . The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
N: Has darkness won?
H: Or will this death illuminate a sinful world and show the way back to God?
J1: Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.
Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.
J2: The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
J1: But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
[During the next line, the last lily flower is removed and set slightly apart from the plant.]
J2: The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.
N: Jesus, the resurrection and the life, is indisputably dead.
There is no other prophet in the land to command him to come back to life as Jesus did with Lazarus.
How can we hold onto our own resurrection hopes when the resurrection and the life is gone?
H: Before raising Lazarus, Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
N: Does death reign victorious?
H: Or can this death somehow lead to life? O Lord, help us believe, that we may see the glory of God!
“Power of the Cross / Oh, to See the Dawn” Getty and Townend, LUYH 177
J1: Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.
J2: He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about
J1: Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.
J2: At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
[The following is done during the next three lines: If they fit, the broken staff pieces are tossed in the exposed bottom framework of the bridge. The bread, wine, lily pieces, and cup are crudely wrapped in the plastic tablecloth, which is deposited in the same place. The gate is flipped over and fitted into place over the bridge, sealing in the tablecloth and its contents. Finally, an object handler stomps on the gate.]
N: A different gate, the door to the tomb, is sealed shut. There is no going out or coming in.
This gate separates sheep from shepherd. No familiar voice calls, no sure-footed shepherd leads, no staff protects.
How can we, sheep prone to turn each to our own way, enjoy the shepherd’s goodness and mercy when a locked gate is between us?
H: The words Jesus spoke when calling himself the gate only deepen our distress: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
N: Is Jesus, who claimed to be the gate, now sealed forever, immobile and useless, behind the door of the tomb?
H: Or will Jesus, the gate, beyond rescue, emptied of life, somehow use even his sealed-in, wrapped-up, spice-scented remains to open a door to the freedom of sweet salvation and renewed life?
N: Where is the bread, the light, the vine, the shepherd, the way, the gate, the resurrection?
H: And what would it take for us to know with certainty that the one who said “I am” still is?
[Silence as the larger candle is relit. The remaining flower from the lily plant and the relit candle are placed on the back of the gate on the upside-down bridge. By this point the room should be dark. The final line comes after a delay of several seconds.]
H: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”