As with many congregations, our primary worship services were still online for Holy Week 2021. We wanted to create an online worship experience for Maundy Thursday that would be more than a few songs and a sermon, instead retelling the events from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday in an engaging way using dramatic monologues, music, and visual elements.
In light of the church‘s COVID policy, participants came to the sanctuary separately to record their parts, which were then edited together. Brief interludes of a solo flute playing phrases of “What Wondrous Love Is This” served as a transition between spoken parts. Visual elements included a basin and towel, the communion table set with bread and cup, and decorative elements such as candles, grapevines, and swags of purple cloth.
This service is equally as effective as a quiet, in-person candlelight service. The set and performances could simply be a readers theater, or it could be fully costumed and acted. In our COVIDtime version, music consisted of solos and a virtual choir anthem, but familiar hymns and a responsive call to worship would give the congregation several opportunities to participate.
I am grateful to my New Providence colleagues Jennifer Gong, director of contemporary worship, and Rick Clark, service producer and director of contemporary worship, for their significant contributions to this service.
Welcome and Call to Worship
Scripture Reading: Psalm 116:1–2, 12–14, 17–19
Instrumental Music: “What Wondrous Love” Anonymous, LUYH 164, GtG 215, SSS 177
Disciple 1: I can’t believe it—Jesus was arrested, and now they are saying he might be put to death! How could this have happened? It’s not right! Jesus is our Messiah, the Christ—not a rebel leader, not a criminal!
It was just a few days ago that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed colt. People were spreading their coats and cut branches, making a pathway for him and shouting:
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
At last! we thought. At last people could see him for who he was: the Messiah we’d been waiting for. At last the kingdom of Israel would be restored to the glory of the days of King David. We were filled with hope and excitement, and we were right in the center of everything!
Disciple 2: But then things began to change.
First there was the incident in the temple courts. We’d never seen Jesus so filled with anger—righteous anger—as he cleared out all the merchants and overturned their tables. That didn’t go over so well with the powers that be.
And then there were the verbal contests with the priests and rabbis. Like cat and mouse, they kept trying to trap Jesus with their arcane questions, but most times Jesus left them speechless. We were proud to be disciples of such a wise teacher.
Disciple 1: But then Jesus began to speak of things we didn’t want to hear—uncomfortable things, like how the temple would be destroyed, how persecution and betrayal and danger would come to us. The end of days. He told us to watch for it—to be ready.
Worst of all, he began to talk about his own death. While we were having a meal at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came in with an alabaster jar of perfume, which she broke open and poured on Jesus’ head. Everyone was shocked—scandalized at the waste of such an expensive commodity. But not Jesus. He blessed her. He said she had done a beautiful thing, that she had prepared his body for burial.
Hymn: “My Jesus, I Love Thee” Featherstone, LUYH 366, SSS 303, WR 468
Disciple 2: And then came the Passover. We needed to find a place to have the meal. Jesus told us to find a servant carrying a jar of water, who would lead us to a place. And it was just as he said—the man’s master had a room upstairs in his house, ready for our use.
We didn’t know it then, but this was our last meal with Jesus. If only we had known! We would have acted so differently. For one thing, we would have throttled that snake Judas before he slid away unnoticed! Jesus even said one of us would betray him, and their eyes met, but we didn’t want to believe it. Maybe he was speaking figuratively, we thought. It wouldn’t be the first time we struggled to understand.
I wish I’d known it would be our last evening with him. He told us many things: parables, prophecies—important things. But we wasted time, arguing about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom.
Halfway through the meal, Jesus did a most unusual thing—an uncomfortable thing at first. We should have been used to that by now, but this was different. It was an act of love I will never forget. The master suddenly stood up, took off his robe, knelt down by the water basin, and proceeded to wash our dirty, dusty feet, just like a servant. He told us he had done it as an example—a mandate, a new command. “Love one another,” he said. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).
Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:5–8
Anthem: “Merciful God” Getty and Townend
Disciple 1: So we ate that last Passover meal with Jesus, with herbs to remind us of the bitter slavery of our ancestors in Egypt and bread not given time to rise to remind us that our forefathers hurried away from their chains. And the wine—red wine, like the blood of the lambs that marked the door frames at the first Passover, like the blood placed on the altar, reminding us that freedom is not without sacrifice. And as we recited the words and performed the actions to reaffirm God’s ancient covenant with our people, Jesus made a new covenant with us with the bread and wine of his body and blood. Why? Why was he preparing to leave us in this way—to die, when the kingdom was within his reach?
He told us to do this and remember him.
[At this point in the service, lead your congregation in communion in whatever manner is customary for you.]
Disciple 2: These things he was saying about his body being broken and his blood being shed—we didn’t want to believe it. We didn’t even want to think about it. But we went when he asked us to come with him to the Mount of Olives.
Scripture Reading: Luke 22:39–46
Hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” Montgomery, LUYH 161, GtG 220, SSS 171
Disciple 1: I’m ashamed to admit it, but I fell asleep—not once, but twice. And then Judas showed up with the soldiers, came up to Jesus, and kissed him. A show of friendship and love now stood for betrayal. Then they arrested Jesus and took him away. And now? We’re afraid. We believe he is the Son of God—but what now?
I remember Jesus saying, “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:28–29).
Do I believe? Faith or fear—which is stronger tonight?
Closing Song: “We Hunger and Thirst” Romanacce, Couch, et al.
Sending and Blessing