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A Palm/Passion Liturgy Based on Matthew
This service is essentially a dramatic reading of the Passion story as a liturgy . The elements of worship are not in the usual liturgical order, but close. They’re arranged to fit the storyline, so that it feels more like storytelling than liturgy. It is important to involve the congregation; therefore a couple 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: the meal, Matthew 26.26-29, containing the “Words of Institution.” The pastor should read this passage from the communion table. Here’s a way to use 7 or 8 readers (depending on whether the Pastor reads the part of Pilate).
Liturgist: Greeting, Psalm 118 & prayer, Phil. 2.5-11, Isa. 50.4-9, Ps. 31
Reader 1: Mt. 21.1-11, (the entrance.)… 26. 45-56 (the arrest.) … 27. 27-31 (the mocking)
Reader 2: Mt. 26. 17-25 (the preparation)… 26.57-68 (the trial)… 27. 32-44 (the cross)
Reader 3: Mt. 26.30-44 (the prayers)… 26.69-75 (the denial)… 27. 55-61 (the tomb)
Reader 4: Narrator
Reader 5: Pilate (May be read by the pastor)
Jesus (only one line)
Pilate’s Wife (only one line)
Instruct the readers: don’t introduce the scripture with headings or descriptions, or give the citation of chapter and verse. Just read the story.
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. Note that some songs serve better to introduce a part of the story; others are better after that portion.
If it’s your tradition to include a children’s time do it in the service of the Palms. Other “local” items may be placed there also, where they best fit the flow of the service, given your needs & customs. But pay attention to the mood and meaning of the moment. Avoid breaking up the passion story except with appropriate music. Avoid announcements. If you must do announcements, do not do announcements at the end of the service. They kill the story. Do them at the beginning, or somewhere in the service of the Palms.
During the reading of the death (Matthew 27. 45-54) a group of people strip the altar/chancel area. Depending on your physical setup, remove as much of the decoration, paraments, flowers and even candles that you can and turn out the lights. Leave the sanctuary as dark barren as reasonable. You may end with music, if it’s somber enough not to break the mood. (I often close by singing “Were You There” or “Oh, Jesus” (see below) a capella from the rear of the sanctuary.) The service ends in silence, preferably with the chancel stripped and the lights out. Yes, it’s brutal. That’s the crucifixion. People may remain in prayer as long as they choose to.
[Materials in brackets should not be printed for the congregation.]
The Praise and Procession — Matthew 21.1-11
Leader: Hosanna to the Son of David!
All: Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
PSALTER — Psalm 118. 14-29
Gracious God, You are our strength and power. Open to us the gates of your presence, that we may enter and give thanks. Save us, we beg of you. Bless us with the presence of the One who comes in your name, Jesus, your Christ, our Chief and our Sovereign. Amen.
GOSPEL Matthew 26.17-25
RESPONSE /CREED / NEW TESTAMENT (Philippians 2. 5-11)
Leader: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to cling to.
All: Instead Christ, in complete self-emptying,
took the form of the oppressed,
and was born into the human condition.
And being found in human form,
Jesus humbled himself.
Jesus became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted Christ
and gave to Jesus the name that is above every name.
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 the Life-Give of us all,
that Jesus Christ reigns supreme!
INVITATION 2 Corinthians 5.18-20
PASSING THE PEACE
The Meal Matthew 26. 26-29
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
[We thank you, God of love, for you create us in your image
covenant with us to be our God, 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 there you 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
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
SHARING THE HOLY MEAL
PRAYER OF BLESSING
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In the mystery of the cross we behold your love. Partaking of this grace, may we live always in the love of Christ, by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
The Prayers Matthew 26. 30-44
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
The Arrest Matthew 26. 45-56
OFFERING OUR GIFTS
The Trial Matthew 26. 57-68
OLD TESTAMENT Isaiah 50. 4-9
The Denial Matthew 26. 69-75
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
The grace of God be with you.
And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Receive us, forgive us heal us,
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
by the grace of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
SILENT PRAYER… THE WORD OF GRACE
There Is a Balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
Jesus Before Pilate (Matthew 27. 1-2, 11-26)
Narrator— When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
Pilate— Are you the King of the Jews?
Jesus — You say so.
Narrator—But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.
Pilate— Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?
Narrator— But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.
Pilate— Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?
Narrator— Pilate realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him.
Pilate’s Wife — Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.
Narrator—Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.
Pilate—Which of the two do you want me to release for you?
People— Release for us Barabbas.
Pilate—Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?
People — Let him be crucified!
Pilate—Why, what evil has he done?
Narrator—So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd.
Pilate— I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.
People—His blood be on us and on our children!
Pastor— We have been chosen and destined by God the Giver of Life, and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood. If we walk in the light as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. [1 Peter 1.2; 1 John 1.7]
Narrator—Pilate released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
The Mocking Matthew 27. 27-31
PSALTER (Psalm 31.9-16)
Response: (Sung; Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
Into your hands, my Savior, my spirit I commit.
Be gracious to me, O God, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many— terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Holy One; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
The Crucifixion Matthew 27. 32-44
The Death Matthew 27. 45-54
THE CURTAIN IN THE TEMPLE WAS TORN IN TWO FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
The Burial Matthew 27. 55-61
The service is ended. Remain in prayer as long as you wish, and leave in silence.