This is an adaptation of a service I wrote for Passion Sunday, to be used in this form on Maundy Thursday. We will worship around the same tables where we have dinner together. It could certainly be used in a sanctuary and incorporate putting out candles as in a Tenebrae service, one as each reader concludes. Music choices are suggestive rather than prescriptive. Your hymnal will vary! I am happy to share this resource. Let me know in the comments where you plan to use it.
Hymn #100 All Praise Be Yours My God This Night*
Narrator (Mark 14:1-3)
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.
The Woman Who Anointed Jesus
It was just two days before the festival of unleavened bread.We heard rumors that the chief priests and the scribes were trying to arrest Jesus.They wanted to kill him.Here in Bethany, people were on both sides; some wanted to meet him and talk to him, but others wished he would just move along.They didn’t want any trouble here.He was staying at the house of Simon the leper.My brother knew Simon before he was sick, and I had been to his home.I wanted to go, but I knew that my family would be angry if I went to Simon’s, let alone when this Jesus was there.But I felt I had to go.I snuck out of my parents’ house, and just before I left, I picked up the alabaster jar my grandmother had given me.It belonged to her grandmother and was filled with nard from the East, very precious not just because it is expensive, but because it was hers.
At Simon’s house, Jesus was sitting at the table.I had a feeling I cannot explain now, as if a hand under my elbow was guiding me to him, as if a voice so soft no one else could hear was telling me to anoint him.I broke the jar, for that is the only way to open it.The perfumed oil spread over my hands, and I placed them on his head and let it pour onto him.
Immediately his friends began to complain that I was wasting the nard.It could have been sold for hundreds of denarii, they said.The money could have been used to feed the poor!They scolded me, and for a moment I wished I could run away, that I had never come in the first place.
But then Jesus spoke, and his voice was beautifully kind.“Let her alone,” he said.“Why do you trouble her?She has performed a good service for me.For you will always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”
The men around him looked upset and several tried to stop him talking that way, but he did not listen to them.He said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
In remembrance of me?I didn’t care about that.But I did care that I had made him happy.
Later we heard that it was his friend, Judas, who betrayed him to the priests and Pharisees, for money.
Prayer of Confession
All: God of all Goodness and Light, forgive us when we disappoint you. Forgive us when we misunderstand or when we act wrongly. Forgive us when we sell out your love for us and buy into the world’s approval. Guide us into a better understanding and a deeper faith, we pray. Amen.
Words of Assurance
No matter what we may have done or thought, God will forgive a softened heart and repentant spirit. We live in the embrace of that forgiveness, in history and today and in all the years to come. Amen.
Narrator (Mark 14:12-16)
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
I am a simple man.For three years I followed Jesus, and I became his friend.He trusted me.I went everywhere with him.After we traveled up to Jerusalem, with the crowds welcoming us, we found a place to celebrate Passover together.In an upper room we gathered around the table to celebrate the story of our ancestors and to remember how God saved the Hebrews from slavery to the Egyptians.
We all knew Jesus had troubled the powers that be with his teachings, and we ate the meal wondering what would happen next.But what did happen we never expected.While we were eating together, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”I know he couldn’t mean me!And I said so.The other disciples said the same.“Surely, not I?”But he said to us, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”My chest began to hurt, and my stomach started to churn.Surely I would not betray him!
And then be picked up the loaf from the table and blessed it and broke it, and what he said amazed us more.“This is my body,” he said.And after he poured the wine and said a prayer of thanks for it, he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”All that time together, and I still didn’t understand him.
Hymn #346“Bread of the World, In Mercy Broken”
Service of Communion
Prayer of Thanksgiving
All: In the knowledge of what would come that night, in sorrow for human acts of injustice, we give thanks for the bread and the cup, the signs of a new covenant with God. Amen.
We went out to the Mount of Olives, and then he said, “You will all become deserters.”Not me, I said.Even if the others run away, I will never leave you, Jesus.
But he said, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”No, Master!I will die first, I said.But he shook his head, and his face looked sad.
I was determined that I would not leave his side, but when we got to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus went off to pray.At least I could keep watch, I thought, but it was late, and we had eaten such a big meal that sleep came over me and I dozed off.Jesus’ voice woke me.“Could you not watch with me one hour, Peter?”I hate to admit it, but we all fell asleep again, and when we woke the second time, we were surrounded by men with swords and clubs.Judas, who had been our friend, kissed Jesus and called him “Rabbi.” Then the others arrested him.
We wanted to fight back, but Jesus stopped us.We were full of fear, and we ran away.We ran away.
I went down to the courtyard of the High Priest, just to see what was happening to Jesus.I tried to blend into the crowd that night.But people kept asking me if I had been with Jesus.I denied it.Finally I swore at someone who asked me, and I shouted, “I do not know this man you are talking about!”And then I heard the cock crowing for the second time.And I couldn’t stop my tears, no matter who saw them.
Narrator (Mark 15:1-3)
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”
Then the chief priests accused him of many things.
It was early in the morning when my servant came to wake me.There were many people at the door, he said, and they wanted to talk to me.This Jewish festival has brought so many people into the city, I wasn’t surprised to be disturbed before my usual hour, but I was aware of a disturbing mood in the air.My usually unflappable servant seemed worried.
We went out to the courtyard, and there I saw a man, bound and tied, surrounded by the Jewish priests and scribes and their slaves.One came and whispered to me, “We have looked for a way to convict this man, but we cannot find it.Those who testify against him do not agree.But he continues to call himself King of the Jews!!”
And so I asked him—this gentle-looking man, simply dressed, dirty from the treatment he had received at their hands—I asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Am I? So you say,” he answered.The priests accused him of many things, but he stood silent and strangely peaceful.And so I asked him, “Have you no answer to all these charges they bring against you?”He did not speak.
It has been my practice during the Festival to release a prisoner for the Jews, any prisoner they wish.Quite a crowd had gathered, and I asked them, “Do you wish me to release this…King…of the Jews?”“No, no,” they shouted.And I realized they were jealous of him.They asked me instead to release Barabbas, who had been a hero of an insurrection in the city.“What would you have me do, then, with this King of yours?”
Voice in the Crowd
Why?What evil has he done?
Crucify him!!CRUCIFY HIM!!!
Pontius Pilate (raising his hands to quiet the crowd)
It shall be as you wish.Flog him, and then take him to be crucified.
Why would they want crucifixion for him?Truly, there can be no more shameful death.Common criminals die on the cross.And yet I said to them, “It shall be as you wish.”It was their wish that he die that way, not mine.But I was afraid to stop it.
Hymn #229 Were You There (or use anthem here and hymn later)
Narrator (Mark 15:40-41)
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
Mary the Mother of James and Joses
We were following him all along, my friends and I.We cared for him and for the disciples, and even after the men ran away, afraid, we moved among the crowd keeping as near Jesus as we could.How terrible he looked when they brought him before Pilate, and how much worse after the flogging they gave him.The soldiers made fun of him.They wrapped him in a purple cloak, laughing and jeering.One twisted thorns into a crown and jammed it onto his head.And they all laughed again and started shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!”They struck him again, spat on him, pretended to worship him.And then they put his own torn clothes on him again and led him out to crucify him.
Mary Magdalene, Salome and I followed them all along the road to Golgotha.We were there when they offered him bitter wine, and when they took his clothes away and cast lots for them.We were there when they nailed him, naked and alone, to the cross.We were there to hear the pounding of the nails.It was nine o’clock in the morning.The charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
They tell me there is always a crowd at a crucifixion.Two bandits were on either side of him.That is the sort of person with whom he would die.We who loved him were so close, but we could do nothing to ease his suffering or to save him from death.And people walked by, taunting him all the time.“You said you would destroy the Temple and build it up again in three days; save yourself and come down from the cross, then, Jesus!”The religious leaders mocked him, too, only among themselves, but I heard them.“He saved others, but he cannot save himself.Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.”
But of course they didn’t really want to see him do this.
Even the bandits taunted him.
At the time when the sun reaches its highest, suddenly darkness came over the whole land, and so it remained for three hours.Then we heard our dear Master cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”Still they mocked him, wondering if Elijah would come to save him.He cried out and drew his last breath.They tell me the curtain of the temple was torn in two pieces, from the top to the bottom, at that same moment.
The Roman centurion who had been in charge of all this looked up at Jesus, and he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Anthem “God So Loved the World” (or hymn such as Were You There)
(This is a 2-person reading I’ve used on Christmas Eve, originally written as a pageant performed by adults to mark the relationship between a local church I served and a ministry to the homeless. We coordinated the pageant with a blanket drive for the people served by the ministry.)
Carol “Once in Royal David’s City,” v. 1-2
Lector: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. (Luke 2:1-3)
Storyteller: It was a cold winter’s afternoon, one of those days when you can hardly believe it could be much darker and still be called daytime.
Lector: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)
Storyteller: Joe and Mary arrived in Portland (or a city close to you) by bus. They were hoping to get to Boston (or the biggest nearby city), but this was as far as the money would take them. Back at home, people knew that Mary was going to have a baby. And they knew the baby wasn’t Joe’s. That was a hard one for Joe. Mary told him some story that no guy could believe, no matter how much he wanted to.
It was a crazy story.
Mary said an angel came to talk to her.
Only a crazy person could believe it!
Maybe Joe was a little crazy in love, then, because he stood by Mary.
Maybe. He knew for sure they needed a place to stay that night, and that’s why they didn’t travel to Boston. He figured they could find a room in Portland, and if they really needed it, he had heard there was a good hospital in town.
So they checked out the cheaper motels. But they were all full. Remember, it was Christmas Eve.
Lector: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
Carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” v.1-2
Storyteller: They were standing outside a motel near the bus station, wondering what to do next, when they heard the wheels of a shopping cart and the jouncing of bottles and cans.
An old lady pushed the cart toward them. She could see that Mary was very, very pregnant, and she offered to help them. She told them about the place where she pitched her tent and offered to let them sleep in it that night.
After all, she said, “It’s Christmas.”
They followed her to a place down by the railroad tracks, where they were surprised to see a lot of people besides themselves seeking shelter on that dark night.
Lector: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)
Storyteller: When they got there, everyone looked a little protective of their stuff. All except one. Her name was Angel.
She had an overstuffed backpack, and as soon as she got a look at Mary, she started taking things out, looking for something important.
At the bottom of the bag, she found it. Someone had come down to the day shelter giving out diapers, and she took them, because you just never know what you might need.
At least that’s what she told Mary.
Lector: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:9-14)
Carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
Storyteller: Angel looked around the tent city and started telling her friends about Joe and Mary. She remembered the time she had a baby of her own, and she could tell just by looking that Mary didn’t have long to wait.
Angel knew there were things Mary would need on that cold night besides the diapers.
Lector: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
Storyteller: Sure enough, the baby was born that night. The people heard his first cry.
From the edge of the crowd, a man came forward. He was one of those guys whose looks made you want to steer clear, a silent giant with a big dog and a grim expression. He rarely talked to anyone.
He came right over to Mary, and Joe looked worried.
But then the man said gruffly, “Here, take my blanket. I’ll huddle up with my dog tonight.”
Then they had a visit from a man who thought they might need a little something else while taking care of the baby. He was one of those guys who always has an opinion about everything, who always has a lot to say on every subject. Kind of a wise guy.
But on this night, he quietly offered them his lantern. “You may want some light,” he said.
Surrounded by new friends, the little family spent their first night together.
Lector: When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:17-18)
Carol “The First Noel,” v. 1-3
Storyteller: When he looked at the baby, Joe was glad he had stood by Mary.
Lector: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
Storyteller: Mary said nothing, but her smile told him how joyful her heart felt, even in the dark, cold place where the baby was born.
Lector: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
Storyteller: You may find it hard to believe, but it’s a true story that they all felt warm that night, even the ones who didn’t have blankets.
It’s a true story that the baby’s face shone even before the lantern cast its light.
You may have heard about it.
People may tell you it was only a rumor. But you should always listen to rumors of joy.
Carol “Joy to the World”
***Copyright 2006, Rev. Martha K. Spong (this version 2011)