The passion story as liturgy
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This service is essentially a drama, a passion play. The gospel narrative shapes the various acts of a traditional worship service, so that it feels more like storytelling than liturgy. It is important to involve the congregation; therefore some of the readings are responsive. You may add or omit or move things around a bit—especially music, depending on what your musicians can do and how each piece best fits the mood, energy and flow of the moment. But let the progression of the story dictate the movements of worship.
There is a lot of reading. Therefore is is wise to keep sermon, Eucharistic prayer and choir numbers shorter than usual. The service will run close to 90 minutes—depending on music.
Because there is a lot of reading I recommend several readers. There’s only one passage it’s best for the pastor to read: Luke 22.14-20, containing the “Words of Institution.” The pastor should read this passage from the communion table. For most or all of the other readings use other readers.
I have indicated movements of worship in ALL CAPS. You’ll see “MUSIC” in several places. They are not crucial to the flow of of the story, but they help, These may be congregational songs, choir anthems, instrumental pieces, vocal solos or other musical items. They are there to break up readings, to give people time to reflect and also, with the congregational; songs, to provide for congregational involvement in the story.
My placement of children’s Time and other “local” items are suggestions. Put them where they best fit the flow of the service, given your needs & customs. But pay attention to the mood and meaning of the moment. If you must do announcements, do them in the service of the Palms, or skip them entirely. Do not do announcements at the end of the service. They kill the story. The service ends in silence, preferably with the chancel stripped and the lights out. Yes, it’s brutal. That’s the crucifixion.
[Materials in brackets need not be printed for the congregation.]
A Palm-Passion Sunday Worship Service
The Praise and Procession [= Luke 19. 28-40. Reader reads Luke 19.28-35. Then follows:]
Reader: As Jesus rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.
All: Blessed is the sovereign who comes in the name of God!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
[Reader: Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”]
PROCESSION / SONG
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Holy One! God of love, we thank you that you have given us Jesus, the ruler of our lives. In the midst of violence, he reigns in peace. In the face of judgment he reigns in love. In the suffering of our sin he reigns in forgiveness. He is the Sovereign of Love, the Crucified and Risen One, the Gentle One who overcomes all power, Servant who is our Master, Victim who is our Ruler. May Christ always reign in over our hearts. By your Spirit in us, we praise! We worship! We will follow! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.
* THE PSALTER Psalm 118
The preparation — GOSPEL – Luke 22. 1-13
[The sermon, if included at all, is placed here, before most of the action, to let the story speak for itself.]
RESPONSE/ AFFIRMATION / CREED = Philippians 2. 5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus:
who, despite being in the image of God,
did not cling to equality with God,
but in complete self-emptying
was born into the human condition
and took the place of the oppressed.
Being born in human likeness,
in utter humility Jesus accepted death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted Christ
and gave to Jesus the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess to the glory of God
that Jesus Christ reigns supreme.
The Meal —Luke 22.14-20 [Pastor reads from the communion table]
MUSIC (Suggestion: This Is the Passover)
We thank you, God of love, for you create us in your image
and call us to be your people.
When we fall short of your love you remain faithful to us.
You condemn our injustice, and heal our fear.
In Christ you endure our evil and suffer our death,
and yet conquer death and overthrow the powers of evil.
For Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
who by your grace have died and been raised with Christ.
THE PRAYER OF JESUS (“Lord’s Prayer”)
SHARING THE HOLY MEAL
A troubling conversation —Luke 22. 21-34
The Prayers — Luke 22. 39-4
The Arrest — Luke 22.47-53
The Denial [= Luke 22. 54-62]
Narrator Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him
Servant Girl: This man also was with him.
Narrator: But he denied it.
People: I do not know him.
Narrator: A little later someone else also saw him and spoke up.
Bystander 1 — You also are one of them.
People: Listen: I am not!
Narrator: Then about an hour later still another spoke up.
Bystander 2: Surely you were with him! You look like his kind.
People: No! I do not know what you are talking about!Narrator: At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION Merciful God, we confess that we have betrayed you. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. By the grace of our gentle Christ Jesus, have mercy upon us, O God. Heal us, forgive us, renew us and lead us so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
SILENT PRAYER … WORD OF GRACE
[SUNG RESPONSE ]
The Mocking — Luke 22. 63-71
PSALTER – From Psalm 31
In you, O faithful God, I seek refuge. In your faithfulness, deliver me!
You are my rock and my fortress. Lead me and guide me.
You have redeemed me, O Love. Into your hand I commit my Spirit.
Be gracious to me, O God, for I am in distress.
My eye is wasted from grief; my soul and body also.
I hear whispering of many—terror all around!—
as they scheme against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Love. I say, “You are my God.”
Into your hand I commit my spirit.
[As Jesus offered himself up for us, we offer ourselves in loving service, symbolized in our gifts.]
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Pastor: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
People: Theirs is the Realm of God.
Blessed are those who mourn.
They will be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle.
They will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
They will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful.
They will receive mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart. They will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
They will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Theirs is the Realm of heaven.
Loving Christ, grant your blessing to those who suffer for our sins.
Lord have mercy.
Lamb of God, take away the sin of the world.
Christ have mercy.
Crucified Christ, bless us, that we may follow your way.
Lord have mercy.
The Trial Before Pilate = Luke 23.1-25
[I suggest the Pastor read the part of Pilate.]
Narrator: The whole company of elders arose and brought Jesus before Pilate.
People: We found this man subverting our nation. He opposes paying taxes to the emperor, and claims to be the Messiah, a king!
Pilate: Are you king of the Jews?
Jesus: You have said so.
Pilate: I find no crime in this man.
People: But he stirs up the people, teaching throughout Judea, from Galilee all the way here!
Narrator: When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.
Pilate: You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death.
People: Away with him! Release to us Barabbas!
Narrator: Barabbas has been imprisoned for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.
Pilate: What shall I do with the man whom you call King of the Jews?
People: Crucify him! Crucify him!
Pilate: Why, what evil has he done? This man has done nothing deserving death. I will therefore have him flogged him and release him.
People: Crucify him! CRUCIFY HIM!
Narrator: So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The Cross — Luke 23. 26-31
The Death of Jesus — Luke 23.44-49
THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTAR
The Burial — Luke 23. 50-56
[There is no benediction. The service ends in silence. I recommend there be no postlude, unless you have the perfect piece that leaves the congregation in prayerful silence. (I have often sung “Oh, Jesus,” solo acapella, from the rear of the sanctuary, leaving in silence afterward.) People may remain in prayer as long as they wish.]