Were You There?

This article is from Issue 34 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.

Norman Hogg

On Maundy Thursday 1981 the congregation of the Uniting Church, Quairading, W.A. shared in a service which had evolved over five years in small rural congregations – a variation of the Tenebrae service.Our worship room was set with a long trestle table in the centre. Chairs were placed on the rectangle in a double row around the table leaving plenty of room to walk between chairs and table.A white table-cloth was used. Bread and wine for the Communion were on one end. A single blood-red rose, together with a large home-made ‘Christ Candle’ were also on the table. Two wooden candle-holders about 450mm long, each drilled to take six household candles, were ready to represent the twelve disciples present with Jesus at the Last Supper. Five wooden candle holders, again 450mm long and each drilled to take ten candles, were available to allow a candle for each person present.

The worship began with a welcome and a brief outine of what we were going to do.

Matthew (the lectionary Gopel) provided the basic structure for the worship. The ‘Christ Candle’ was lit and an explanation offered. We talked about discipleship in general, and how the twelve (whom we tried to get the children to name, had made a commitment to Jesus and had followed him all the way to -Jerusalem. Candles were lit by three girls for the twelve, from the ‘Christ Candle’.

Reference was made to the events of Palm Sunday, to the way in which people claimed Jesus as their king and yet a week later called for his death. We established the pattern of acceptance and rejection, and affirmation and denial in our lives. We sang ‘There is a green hill far away’.

Five of the younger children were given a candle holder each and invited to put them in the shape of a cross with the “Christ Candle’ in the centre.

Then all who wished to show that in some way they too were disciples of Jesus were invited to take a candle from the box, light it from the ‘Christ Candle’ and place it in the wooden cross.

The hymn, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ was sung and at the end, all the lights were turned out. A short silence for meditation was allowed.

With the aid of a small torch I began to read Matthew’s account (26:1-27:66).

After the story of the Last Supper we celebrated Holy Communion. Young and old were invited to participate. The bread and wine were passed around the room in silence. We ate and drank and prayed together.

The reading of the biblical record continued through Gethsemane to the betrayal by Judas. His candle was extinguished. On to the arrest and the trial and Peter’s denial. His candle was extinguished. The remaining disciples candles were extinguished, slowly, deliberately, one by one in silence.

We read through to where the soldiers mocked Jesus, and then paused at the words, ‘then they led him out to crucify him’. By the available candle light we sang, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord.’ A torch for the organist and a caller to give the line of the new verse made hymn books unnecessary.

Folk were then invited, if they wished to blow a candle out if in some way or other they identified with the denial of Jesus.

Slowly, quietly, in ones and twos and threes, people came out until all the candles had been put out. So many came out that not everybody who had lit a candle had the opportunity to share in this symbolic demonstration of denial. Having learned from similar experiences in previous services, I had remained seated so that others could follow my example of relighting one of the candles, placing it in the cross, and blowing it out.

With only the ‘Christ Candle’ burning, we read how Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha and how they crucified him. When we read how he died, the sole light, the ‘Christ Candle’, was extinguished.

On to the burial, the benediction, and we went out of the darkened church in silence.

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