Facing the Shadows

A Liturgical Drama 

Preparations

  • All banners, cloths, books, flowers etc. are removed from the sanctuary
  • On the altar, a candelabra or seven single candles are set in a semi-circle 
  • Bread and wine/grape juice in “earthy” looking vessels are ready to be brought into the sanctuary
  • Stations for hand- or foot-washing are set up outside the sanctuary – basins, warm water, towels, a drop of essential oil
  • Volunteers needed:
    • Foot-washers – preferably leaders/elders in the church
    • Communion “stewards” – preferably not the regular stewards but an unlikely and diverse-looking group 
    • 7 readers (with a torch light to assist with their reading)
  • If using a data projector to display responses and songs, there should be a black slide as a “placeholder” to maintain as much darkness as possible.

Upon entering …  

As people enter the church, the mood is upbeat. Those washing their feet (or hands) engage them in conversation about the week that has passed. In the sanctuary some of the hymns or choruses from Palm Sunday can be played to create the link in the story and set the “supper scene.” 

Once most of the congregation is seated, the seven readers come forward to light their candles.

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world. 

Call to worship (by Thom Shuman)

It was a night of hopeas they gathered so long ago,
God who rescues people from despair and oppression.
You offered grace without blemish
as they left behind the years
of loneliness, grief, and bullying,
daring to follow you
into a future known only to you.

One of the footwashers brings a basin and towel and lays it at the foot of the altar.

It was a night when salvation drew near as they gathered so long ago,
Lord who kneels to serve us,
as you tried to ready your friends for all that would happen.
In humility, you washed their feet
so they might follow you down the dusty road of death;
in love, you transformed a simple meal
into moments of grace and comfort.   

The communion stewards approach with bread and wine and “set the table.”

On a night like this, we gather to draw near to one another and you,
Spirit who shares these stories with us.
Here, is the basin with the living water
which washes away our fears and foolishness;
here is the towel we can use
to wipe the tears of all who weep
from grief, oppression, and loneliness;
here, we find that bread,
which, though broken and dropping crumbs,
feeds us with hope, fills us with strength
to serve our sisters and brothers;
here, we are offered the cup
which causes us to thirst for justice.

The bread and wine is shared with the stewards. The elements are distributed among the congregation but are not returned to the altar. 

(Words by Tess Ward) The “leader” raises hands high and says:
Praise to You, Friendship Giver,
for showing what love is,
for coming to our table and bringing us supper,
with the kiss of death hanging darkly over you.
As You tenderly wash each traveling foot,
In the lastness of it all,
In the job of love to be poured out, come what may,
Praise to You.

All of the lights in the sanctuary and surrounds are turned off. 

Facing the shadows

Leader: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
Response: Jesus Christ is the light of the world.

Leader: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world
Response: and we loved darkness rather than light.

TiS 345 verse 1 

Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the crucified my Lord?

Reader 1. The shadow of betrayal – John 13:21-30 (TPT)

Then Jesus was moved deeply in his spirit. Looking at his disciples, he announced, “I tell you the truth—one of you is about to betray me.”

Eyeing each other, his disciples puzzled over which one of them could do such a thing. The disciple that Jesus dearly loved was at the right of him at the table and was leaning his head on Jesus. Peter gestured to this disciple to ask Jesus who it was he was referring to. Then the dearly loved disciple leaned into Jesus’ chest and whispered, “Master, who is it?”

“The one I give this piece of bread to after I’ve dipped it in the bowl,” Jesus replied. Then he dipped the piece of bread into the bowl and handed it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And when Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus looked at Judas and said, “What you are planning to do, go do it now.” 

None of those around the table realized what was happening. Some thought that Judas, their trusted treasurer, was being told to go buy what was needed for the Passover celebration, or perhaps to go give something to the poor. So Judas left quickly and went out into the dark night to betray Jesus.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The first candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 1 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Reader 2. The shadow of denial – John 13:31-38 (TPT)

After Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the glory of God to surround the Son of Man, and God will be greatly glorified through what happens to me. And very soon God will unveil the glory of the Son of Man.

“My dear friends, I only have a brief time left to be with you. And then you will search and long for me. But I tell you what I told the Jewish leaders: you’ll not be able to come where I am. So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you. For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.”

Peter interjected, “But, Master, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going you won’t be able to follow, but one day you will follow me there.”

Peter said, “What do you mean I’m not able to follow you now? I would sacrifice my life to die for you!”

Jesus answered, “Would you really lay down your life for me, Peter? Here’s the absolute truth: Before the rooster crows in the morning, you will say three times that you don’t even know me!”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The second candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 2 

Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

Reader 3. The Shadow of ignorance – John 14:1-11 (TPT)

“Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you’ve believed in God, now trust and believe in me also. My Father’s house has many dwelling places. If it were otherwise, I would tell you plainly, because I go to prepare a place for you to rest. And when everything is ready, I will come back and take you to myself so that you will be where I am. And you already know the way to the place where I’m going.”

Thomas said to him, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going, so how could we know the way there?”

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life. No one comes next to the Father except through union with me. To know me is to know my Father too. And from now on you will realize that you have seen him and experienced him.”

Philip spoke up, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be all that we need!”

Jesus replied, “Philip, I’ve been with you all this time and you still don’t know who I am? How could you ask me to show you the Father, for anyone who has looked at me has seen the Father. Don’t you believe that the Father is living in me and that I am living in the Father? Even my words are not my own but come from my Father, for he lives in me and performs his miracles of power through me. Believe that I live as one with my Father and that my Father lives as one with me—or at least, believe because of the mighty miracles I have done.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The third candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 1 

There is a green hill far away,
Outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.

Reader 4. The shadow of negligence – Luke 22:39-46 (TPT)

Jesus left the upper room with his disciples and, as was his habit, went to the Mount of Olives, his place of secret prayer. There he told the apostles, “Keep praying for strength to be spared from the severe test of your faith that is about to come.”

Then he withdrew from them a short distance to be alone. Kneeling down, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.”

Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared. He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.

When Jesus finished praying, he got up and went to his disciples and found them all asleep, for they were exhausted and overwhelmed with sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “You need to be alert and pray for the strength to endure the great temptation.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fourth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 3 

He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious blood.

Reader 5. The shadow of violence – Luke 22:47-53 (TPT)

No sooner had he finished speaking when suddenly a mob approached, and right in front of the mob was his disciple Judas. He walked up close to Jesus and greeted him with a kiss. For he had agreed to give the religious leaders a sign, saying, “The one I kiss is the one to seize.”

Jesus looked at him with sorrow and said, “A kiss, Judas? Are you really going to betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When the other disciples understood what was happening, they asked, “Lord, shall we fight them with our swords?”

Just then, one of the disciples swung his sword at the high priest’s servant and slashed off his right ear. Jesus stopped the incident from escalating any further by shouting, “Stop! That’s enough of this!” Then he touched the right side of the injured man’s head and the ear grew back—he was healed!

Jesus turned to those who had come to seize him—the ruling priests, the officers of the temple police, and the religious leaders—and said, “Am I a criminal that you come to capture me with clubs and swords? Wasn’t I with you day after day, teaching in the temple courts? You could have seized me at any time. But in the darkness of night you have now found your time, for it belongs to you and to the prince of darkness.”

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The fifth candle is extinguished.

TiS 350 verse 4 

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate,
Of heaven, and let us in.

Reader 6. The shadow of detachment – Luke 23:13-25 (TPT)

Pilate gathered the people together with the high priests and all the religious leaders of the nation and told them, “You have presented this man to me and charged him with stirring a rebellion among the people. But I say to you that I have examined him here in your presence and have put him on trial. My verdict is that none of the charges you have brought against him are true. I find no fault in him. And I sent him to Antipas, son of Herod, who also, after questioning him, has found him not guilty. Since he has done nothing deserving of death, I have decided to punish him with a severe flogging and release him.” For it was Pilate’s custom to honor the Jewish holiday by releasing a prisoner.

When the crowd heard this, they went wild. Erupting with anger, they cried out, “No! Take this one away and release Barabbas!” For Barabbas had been thrown in prison for robbery and murder.

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, tried to convince them it was best to let Jesus go. But they cried out over and over, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

A third time, Pilate asked the crowd, “What evil crime has this man committed that I should have him crucified? I haven’t found one thing that warrants a death sentence! I will have him flogged severely and then release him.”

But the people and the high priests, shouting like a mob, screamed out at the top of their lungs, “No! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Finally their shouts and screams succeeded. Pilate caved in to the crowd and ordered that the will of the people be done. Then he released the guilty murderer Barabbas, as they had insisted, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The sixth candle is extinguished.

TiS 342 verse 3 

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Reader 7: The shadow of death – Luke 23:44-55 (TPT)

It was now only midday, yet the whole world became dark for three hours as the light of the sun faded away. And suddenly in the temple the thick veil hanging in the Holy Place was ripped in two! Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, I surrender my Spirit into your hands.” And he took his last breath and died.

When the Roman captain overseeing the crucifixion witnessed all that took place, he was awestruck and glorified God. Acknowledging what they had done, he said, “I have no doubt; we just killed the righteous one.”

The crowds that had gathered to observe this spectacle went back to their homes, overcome with deep sorrow and devastated by what they had witnessed. But standing off at a distance were some who truly knew Jesus, and the women who had followed him all the way from Galilee were keeping vigil.

There was also a member of the Jewish council named Joseph, from the village of Ramah, a good-hearted, honorable man who was eager for the appearing of God’s kingdom realm. He had strongly disagreed with the decision of the council to crucify Jesus. He came before Pilate and asked permission to take the body of Jesus and give him a proper burial, and Pilate granted his request. So he took the body from the cross and wrapped it in a winding sheet of linen and placed it in a new, unused tomb chiseled out of solid rock. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was fast approaching.

The women who had been companions of Jesus from the beginning saw all this take place and watched as the body was laid in the tomb. 

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
Response: Christ, have mercy.

The seventh candle is extinguished.

TiS 345 verse 4 

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

A deep moment of silence is observed in the dark.

The sending

After the silence, a single candle is lit.

Watchful Spirit who stays awake
and guards us through the night:
Be with all those who have been betrayed by another,
Misunderstood by another,
Denied by another,
Neglected by another,
Attacked by another, 
Disowned by another,
Killed by another.

Illuminate the shadows that dance deep within us 
That we may see how “another” may actually be me
And, through the passion of our Lord, grant us protection,
Through his suffering, our salvation,
Through his hurt, our healing,
Through his death, our deliverance,
And through his light, life eternal.
Amen.

The people leave the sanctuary in silence. 

Last lessons: Discomfort

*Tennebrae/Thursday in Holy Week: John 13:1-17,31b-35*

 

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Verse 14

Oh Lord who honoured the sacred tradition of Passover,
and, in your last days, planted seeds of an eternal legacy within your disciples,
~ searching hearts,
~ imparting truth ,
~ reframing customs,

the floor is hard beneath my knees,
cold, uncomfortable, discomfiting

but not quite as disconcerting
as the state of my brother’s feet:
the road weary-roughness sandpapers against my soft hands;
the jagged hangnail on his right big toe a pain to us both
as I look away embarrassed,
afraid to touch.

Why would you put me in this place,
in this lowly position?
What lesson on love can I learn from the dirt, the dust
that clings to him?
And how do you expect this moment of awkwardness
to enrich our fellowship?

Tonight, as I follow in your footsteps
through the Garden of Gethsemane
to the cross on Golgotha’s hill –
keep me uncomfortable …
… unsettled …
… disturbed …
… and deeply connected to those who make the journey with me.