This article is from Issue 58 of “On The Move,” a publication of new learning possibilities for churches, at one time published by The Joint Board of Christian Education of Australia and New Zealand.
Although some ideas and liturgies may appear somewhat “dated” in style, concept, imagery or language, they may nevertheless offer a spring-board for new ideas among people who find themselves leading worship, perhaps in a new context, and with some trepidation.
Reproduced by permission. May be reprinted for use in local congregations only.
A Palm Sunday Reading
A Night to Remember
The occasion was Palm Sunday, and I wanted to fill in the story of the Passion before we would meet again on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. The issue of children and Holy Communion was being discussed in the congregation and concern had been expressed that the children needed to be helped to understand its origin and meaning. Hence the format as written.
The early part of the service included the triumphal entry theme procession, banners, palm branches etc. and a colleague explained the circumstances and importance of Passover as a time for remembering and celebrating.
The communion table was set, with thirteen chairs in a horseshoe around it. An elder read Matthew 26:17-19 to set the scene. I spoke from the pulpit. I was dressed in an alb with no stole or cross.
I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples, he said. Passover the memory feast of our people. Year after year we sit at table and rejoice together in this most holy meal. But, for me, there was none more holy than that dreadful Passover in my mothers house. I was but a lad no more than ten summers yet the memory of it is as fresh as though it were yesterday.
They came all twelve of them and the Master. Mother had made everything ready as he had asked. We had looked forward to it so much. We talked of nothing else for days before. To celebrate Passover with Jesus and his friends! How excited we were during the preparation. Passover is always an exciting time. But that year was different. Exciting? Yes, but more, much more!
We had heard so much of him Jesus, that is. His name was on everyones lips. Many loved him, especially the poor and wretched. There were others, however the priests and scribes who were annoyed at his popularity and even feared him a little. We had heard that some would have had him silenced, but that they held back because of the enthusiasm of the crowd which seemed always to be with him. But oh, how they welcomed him into the city that day. Palm branches, singing, cheering and him sitting (as royal as you like) on that donkey, for all the world like a king on his way to be crowned.
Mother was so proud of being asked to celebrate Passover in our home. Yet, I remember well, she seemed uneasy and agitated all that week. Then, on the very day, she drew the curtains early and there was n.o singing as she tidied the room in readiness for her guests. Mother was always singing!
My name is Mark, by the way John Mark and I am pleased to have the opportunity to tell you these things. So please bear with me, for I was there. I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears. I must tell you tell everyone. I must!
The sun had barely set when I first heard the footsteps and the muffled knock at the door. Mother! I shouted, and made to open it, but she bade me stop and insisted that I draw back and wait quietly. She was strangely anxious I could see it in her face. Of course, we had no idea that they would take him and lash him and nail. . . but Im racing ahead too much!
(During the next part of the narrative Jesus and the disciples enter and move towards the table.)
Mother opened the door and in a hushed voice welcomed them and ushered them to the upper room, pressing them to walk quietly as they went. Everyone spoke in subdued tones, even the Master. I will never forget their faces, these men from Galilee. Most were quite Young, rugged (some were fishermen), but that night they all looked anxious. Passing me at the foot of the stairs a few smiled and ruffled my hair. Only Jesus paused and thanked mother and then me for allowing them the use of the room.
Normally Passover is a celebration a time for great stories of times past, a time to remember and dream, a time for the whole family, children and adults together, dancing, laughter, singing but not that year for us. Peter, the biggest of the fishermen, had asked that they be left alone with their master. No one else was to be present. No neighbours (as was the custom), not even mother or me. Just those twelve country strangers and Jesus, together in our upper room.
(They make their way to the seats around the table – Jesus in the centre seat. They pretend to talk to one another as the narrative continues.)
I was so disappointed and made to protest, but mother held me and said, It is better this was. We will celebrate another time.
After a hasty supper mother insisted I go off to bed, but how could she expect me to sleep? I could hear them moving about. I was so excited and disappointed, and curious. How could anyone imagine that I could just shut my eyes and sleep when I could hear their muffled voices through the wall. Of course it was dark and I was only ten years old – but to expect me to sleep was ridiculous.
So I did what any ten year old boy might do. I waited a while until I heard mother settled downstairs, and then tiptoed into the passageway. I had no trouble in climbing out a window onto the flat roof of our neighbours house. From there I could move to where I could see in the window of the room where Jesus and the twelve were gathered.
I remember it was a warm night as I crouched in the shadows – warm in more ways than you can imagine. Peter was warm. Judas was warm … Boy was he warm! He stormed out of there and . . . But Im getting ahead of myself again.
From the roof I could hear much of their conversation. They seemed to be excited about the procession into the city with the cheering crowd, the palm branches. I heard someone mention Zechariah the prophet. But the Master was strangely quiet.
(Jesus and the disciples mime the sharing of the meal.)
Then there were prayers and recollections as the meal was shared. Everything seemed perfectly normal. It was as we had done time and time again. I could not understand why we could not have joined them. I dont mind telling you I was pretty hungry by now, and the sight of them sharing the lamb and the bread…
(Jesus rises and puts a towel round his waist and with a bowl washes the feet of the disciples.)
Then, just as I was about to return inside, Jesus rose and took off his outer garment. He tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a washbasin – and began to wash their feet! Yes, wash their feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He, the Master, washing the feet of his disciples! I could not understand. Nor could they. This was the task of a house servant or a woman. My mother should have offered them water and a towel when they first came in.
You should have seen the embarrassed looks on their faces. One of them protested. Peter, I think it was. But when the Master insisted, Peter wanted him to wash his hands and head as well! (Congregation sings Kneels at the feet of his friends, AHB/WOV 561.)
Do you understand what I have done for you? he said. You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so because I am. I am your Lord and teacher and I have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash each others feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do to others just what I have done for you.
I have wanted so much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer, he said. For I tell you, I will never eat it again until it is given real meaning in the Kingdom of God.
(Jesus breaks bread and shares it, also wine.) Then Jesus took some bread from the table, offered a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Take it, he said, this is my body. Then he took the cup. This cup is Gods new covenant sealed with my blood. I tell you I will never again drink this wine until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God. They all took and ate and drank but I could see by their faces that they did not understand what Jesus was saying and doing!
Then he said it! One of you will betray me one who is eating with me!
I froze, as did the others, and there was an endless silence. Then one by one they began to protest and ask who would do such a thing. Surely not me? Not me.
I crept closer now, for all eyes were on the Master. They had no thought of someone watching.
Who who is it Lord? they kept asking.
I will dip the bread in the sauce and give it to him. He is the man. He took a piece of bread, dipped it and gave it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot and said to him, Hurry, and do what you must!
I could see Judas trembling as he reached out and took the bread, then turned away quickly. The others gasped as he stormed from the room, banging the door as he went.
(Judas leaves. After a silence the congregation sings Lord from the depth I cry to you, AHB/WOV 22. Jesus and the remaining disciples leave the table and move outside during the hymn.)
They left as quietly as they had come, disappearing into the night; some to the right, others to the left. The Master had asked that Peter, James and John go with him to Gethsemane, a grove of olive trees outside the city wall, for there he wanted to pray a while.
How could anyone expect me to return to bed and not know if Judas was for real. Mother would have been furious had she known. . . I followed them in my nightshirt, bare feet and all.
Down the dark streets I went, in and out of doorways, careful not to be seen. And when we reached the city gates I held back until they were amongst the trees.
(Jesus and the three enter and sit on the floor. Jesus kneels as if in prayer.)
Then I crept as close as I dared and managed to crouch behind a bush. I watched as they prayed. Well, they is hardly the right word, because Peter and James and John kept falling asleep. But the Master prayed. He was deeply troubled. He kept coming back to the others to urge them to stay awake and pray with him.
(A male voice sings Stay here and watch from Music of Taize Volume 2.)
I pressed as close as I could and heard him speak again of a cup. My father, he said, if this cup can pass from me, I ask you to remove it. Yet not my will but yours be done.
I could see no cup in his hand, so I didnt know what he meant. I was too young to understand. But now . . .
How tired he looked that night in the moonlight. . . .
(As the next part is read Judas returns, along with the remaining disciples who have now become a hostile crowd and soldiers. There is a bit of a scuffle as they arrest Jesus and the three disciples.)
Then there were voices loud voices. And lights, torches, and dogs barking, people coming. I could see Jesus wake the others, but it was too late. There was Judas at the head of a band of men, some of them soldiers. Judas came forward and stood before Jesus. They looked into each others eyes. Teacher, said Judas, and kissed him. He kissed him! How could he betray his friend with a kiss? How could he?
(The narrator heightens the drama by speeding up the reading from this point.)
Then everything went wild. Men with torches ran forward. Peter, James and John stood to fight. The soldiers took Jesus without a struggle and fastened him with rope. I was terrified. I wanted to cry out Let him go! Let him go! but my tongue was stuck. Then, just as I was about to retreat into the dark, I felt that vice-like grip on my shoulder and nearly died.
Got you! he said as he tried to pull me into the torchlight. Heres another. Trying to hide, he was! All I could think of was mother. What would she say when she found I was missing? What would she do when she learned what had happened? I kicked and screamed and twisted and turned. . . Then something ripped, and I was free.
(There is a short pause before another reader ends the drama with Mark 14:50-52.)