In the category of things we take for granted, I never thought much about what kind of bread we used for Communion, only whether it was fresh and tasted good. I grieved over stale bread cubes, grimaced over the flavor of rosemary focaccia dipped in grape juice, and groaned (quietly) over moldy pita grabbed from the church freezer by a deacon when someone else failed to provide. I took offense at being given a slice of bread to break – would you vivisect our Lord, I asked nobody in particular?
When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him.He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” (Luke 22:14-16, CEB)
Meanwhile, I earnestly deconstructed our white, Victorian images of Jesus. Yet it took years before I thought about the image being projected by the bread meant to represent his brown body. Whether pita or loaf, ciabatta or challah, it was all the same color.
It was all white.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store and looked for bread with my wife, for her service tonight. She wants to fill three baskets without keeping the people who need gluten-free separate from the rest of the congregation, and I thought we could find a multi-grain loaf in the gluten-free section. We stood reading ingredients together. In the tiny print, we found something wrong with every loaf. We will keep trying. We can all keep trying.
Jesus commanded the disciples to love each other, and the same mandate applies to us. We have the power to send a message of love to the church and to the world with each word we speak, each action we take, each loaf we share. When that bread is broken tonight, I’ll be thinking of all of you, tearing pieces of bread, in churches of all descriptions, for people of all descriptions. I will be treasuring this community of the faithful tied by bonds of love, across all kinds of human-made boundaries. I will be thinking of your faces, the ones I know in person, and the ones I know as little pictures on Facebook, and the ones I imagine in the words you write. On this night when we want all to go well, may the bread be flavorful and fresh, and the cup a sweet reminder of the One who lived his life with so much love, Jesus Christ. May the meal convey welcome not just to a collective all but to each one who receives it. And may each and every one of you be blessed, just as you are a blessing to those you serve and a blessing to me.
One: Picture him in the garden, in the fever of the moment, left with the soldiers while his friends ran away. Many: We can picture him, surrounded but alone.
One: Did the stories cross his mind, the moments he spent with his friends, the conversations they had? Many: Did his life flash before his eyes?
One: A woman came into the house, carrying her jar of ointment. Its rich aroma filled the room where it happened, a beautiful sign of love and care. (Remove the jar.) Many: We remember her anointing as a gentle act of prophecy. All: O God, make us prophets.
One: The disciples sat close, across from the Temple, and listened to all he said, the last teachings he would offer in words, a warning that all the things they counted on would come crashing down. (Remove the rock.) Many: We remember how he told them, “Keep awake.” All: O God, make us wakeful.
One: A widow brought her offering to the Temple, giving all she had, just as he prepared to give his all. (Remove the coins.) Many: We remember we are to love God with all we have: heart, mind, soul and strength. All: O God, may we be truly giving.
One: The scribes and Pharisees came to question him, and he taught them with parables, predicting his own death in the story of the vineyard workers. (Remove the grapes.) Many: We remember the beloved son, seized and beaten. All: O God, help us to see the truth in his stories.
One: The people shouted as he rode into Jerusalem; they laid palm branches on the road, crying “Hosanna!” (Remove palms.) Many: We remember, yet tomorrow they will shout, “Crucify him!” All: O God, forgive them. Forgive us.
One: James and John asked to sit by his side, one on the left and one on the right, but he reminded them of the cup they would have to drink. (Remove chalice.) Many: We remember. How blind they were to the truth! All: O God, give us eyes to see.
One: The young man asked his question sincerely, and he stated his faith practices with confidence, but it was not enough. (Remove paten.) Many: We remember the camel and the eye of the needle, the fields with persecutions. All: O God! we may not starve, but it will not be easy.
One: Peter rebuked him when he spoke the truth about the kind of death he would die. He struck back with words. No one can keep this from happening! Get behind me! Many: Get behind me! All: Get behind me, Satan! (Remove ashes.)
One: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
All: All of them deserted him and fled.
This litany is based on the texts in the Narrative Lectionary for Year 2, moving backwards through the narrative from Holy Week to Ash Wednesday. We’ll be removing the items mentioned from the worship center during the litany, which will come after reading Mark 14:43-50. I am happy to share this litany; just leave a comment saying where you will be using it.
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)