Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley: A Tenebrae Service for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday


Photograph provided by Court Street United Methodist Church in Flint, Michigan

Notes: This reading takes up to fifteen people: twelve disciples, one or two narrator(s), and Jesus. "Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley" may be sung to open this service.

The photograph shows how the candles may be set up. The candelabra, built to accommodate thirteen candles contains one lit candle in the center, representing Jesus. The remaining twelve candles are in candleholders on a table in front of the candelabra. As candles are blown out, lights in the sanctuary should also be turned off; the last sanctuary lights being turned off with the twelfth candle. At the end, when the thirteenth candle is blown out, the sanctuary should be completely dark. Worshipers exit the church in darkness and silence. (You may want to have ushers on hand with flashlights to enable worshipers to exit safely.)

Introduction
As you enter this Holy space, please do so quietly. You are an observer of what the twelve disciples may have experienced on that night after Jesus was taken and they were alone for the first time in years.

Narrator: This is the night of darkness before the world changed. Not only for the disciples, but also for all of us. Jesus has offered the disciples a new covenant. He has blessed the bread and the cup, beginning the journey that would lead to the cross; saving us through his suffering.

I. Judas Iscariot
The Betrayal

Narrator: Jesus went with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Jesus went off by himself to pray, asking the disciples to keep vigil with him, to stay awake by the fire. Although their spirits were willing, each time Jesus returned to them, he found them asleep. His hour was at hand. And as his trial begins we go to the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus has been arrested by the Romans (John 18:1, Matthew 26:37-45).

Judas Iscariot: I helped the Roman soldiers take Jesus away. I betrayed him with a kiss. They paid me thirty pieces of silver. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought that Jesus would reveal himself as the Messiah when they came for him. I thought that he would strike down the Romans, freeing us from our oppression. I thought that he would reveal himself before Caiaphas, the Chief Priest and the other high priests at his trial. He did none of these things. Even when Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest's slave, cutting off his right ear, Jesus told Peter to put up his sword. Then Jesus healed the slave's ear and was taken away. I have given our leader over to those who will punish him. How can I possibly return to my brothers, the other disciples? I have shared bread and wine with them for the last time (John 18:10-11).

(Judas moves to the table, blows out a candle, and places it in the candelabra.)

II. John, the son of Zebedee
The Beatitudes

Narrator: Each of the disciples remembers a moment from Jesus' ministry, remembers the way he was changed by his words, his deeds. On this night, they too are left alone. And each of them wonders what will happen to him, what will happen next?

John: Oh the things that he taught us, the things that we heard. I remember Jesus calling people blessed. "Blessed are the meek," he said, "blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn." I was blessed from the moment he called me to be with him, and I never realized it. I was blessed as I saw him reach out to those who were hungry, those who were poor, those who were sick, and those who were oppressed. He came, bringing words of hope and joy to so many who needed it. I saw how their lives were changed by his words, how they were transformed before my eyes. Now I am one who is poor, now I am one who mourns, now I am one who hungers. Now I need to hear his words just once more. Where do I go from here? (Matthew 5:3-12)

(John moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

III. James, the son of Zebedee
Feeding the Thousands

Narrator: How do you recall, in one night, all the ways that Jesus has touched your life? How do you recall, in one night, all the ways that Jesus touched the lives of others? So many wonders, so many miracles. Why did this son of a carpenter care for so many people?

James: Our journey was long with many peaks and valleys. No matter where we went, Jesus' reputation went before us. There were times when he had to go to the top of a hill to speak to the crowds. Sometimes he had to get into a boat and go out onto the lake for a little way, so that he would not be overwhelmed. One evening, after he spoke to many and healed many, we continued our journey. And they followed. There were too many people to enter the town. They wouldn't have enough food for so many. We didn't have enough money to feed so many. We had only a few loaves and fishes -- enough to feed ourselves. Jesus instructed us to break the bread and fishes and give it to the crowd. There were so many! Too many for us to feed with the little we had. And yet, every person who reached into the basket pulled out bread, or pulled out fish. There was enough for everyone and even some left over. I hunger to hear his voice once more, to sit and eat with him. I fear that I will never do either (Matthew 15:29-39).

(James moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

IV. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter
The Syrophonecian Woman and the Samaritan Woman

Narrator: As the night passes, each of the disciples is left alone with his thoughts for the first time since Jesus called each one by name. There is no joy on this night, only fear, regret, sorrow, and guilt. Although the disciples heard the words of Jesus, not until now did they begin to understand them.

Andrew: Our teacher, Jesus, met so many people along the way. We went to places where the Gentiles lived. I remember when he met the Syrophonecian woman. She asked him to heal her daughter. At first he refused. She became angry. She challenged him, not for her sake, but on her daughter's behalf. She sought the one she knew who could heal her daughter. Her faith led her to him. And after her challenge, Jesus healed her daughter and sent the woman on her way. On our journeys, we traveled to Samaria. Jesus sat down by the well, the one of our ancestor Jacob. We saw him speaking with a woman who had given him some water. She was so happy; we knew that Jesus had done something for her. He spoke to these women as if they were part of his community. Who will he embrace as family now? Will he ever return to us? (Matthew 15:21-28, John 4:5-30)

(Andrew moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

V. Thaddeus (Also called Jude or Judas)
The Parables

Narrator: There was so much that Jesus shared. How could the disciples take it all in? This was the first night of what was to come. This was the beginning of the new way. On this night, they could not realize that their time of darkness would not last forever.

Thaddeus: The stories Jesus told us: Where could they have come from, if not God? They were so full of wisdom, so full of lessons for us, echoing the lessons given to Moses, and spoken by the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. They were about the things we had forgotten, the things we stopped hearing from our priests. The time to change our ways has come. We heard how God seeks to bring the lost ones home, like sheep, coins, or a wayward child and to welcome us with open arms. We learned how we need only to have a little faith -- like a mustard seed, and the Lord will help it grow. We learned that goodness is in all people, even if they are Samaritans. We learned that we must keep a vigil, expectantly waiting for God's return. But on this night, I forgot the message of those stories. When they came to arrest Jesus, I did not stand with him. And now, I am lost. Who will come and find me? (Luke 15:3-32, Matthew 13:31-32)

(Thaddeus moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

VI. Matthew
Healing the Hemorrhaging Woman and the Centurion's Slave

Narrator: Jesus performed miracles everywhere he went. Blind people were able to see; deaf people were able to hear. The lame walked; demons were cast out. Many sought out Jesus, not only for themselves but for someone they loved.

Matthew: The crowds seemed to grow each day. Yet somehow that woman reached Jesus and touched the bottom of his robe. He felt the power go out of him. We thought it was the masses of people pressing in on him; but then the woman identified herself. She came forward and thanked Jesus for healing her. She had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. She had faith to believe that Jesus alone would heal her. And though there were too many people separating her from him, she somehow was able to touch the hem of his robe and be completely healed. Even a Roman guard, a Centurion, sought Jesus. The Centurion spoke of Jesus' authority and recognized his power. He came and asked Jesus to heal his slave. Jesus spoke with him and healed him right then and there. His healing power touched so many, some we knew by name; others who were complete strangers. I wish I had his healing touch now, for I am sick in my heart (Luke 8:40-48, Matthew 8:5-13).

(Matthew moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

VII. Thomas
Raising of Lazarus

Narrator: This is the longest night of their lives. The disciples have scattered like leaves on the wind. It is not known where they have gone. They fear for their lives. They do not want to be arrested. They do not want to testify before the Sanhedrin. They do not want to be brought before Pilate. They do not want to be with Jesus now. Those who witnessed his greatest miracles are unable to be witnesses for him at his trial.

Thomas: Word came to us that Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was ill. Although we warned Jesus that the Jews had sought to stone him and that he should not return just then, he decided to go anyway. And so we went with him, fearing for our lives, not knowing what punishment might lie ahead for us. We arrived too late. Martha came out of the village to meet us, to tell us that her brother was gone. Jesus then entered the village and went to Mary. When he saw all those around him weeping for the loss of Lazarus, he also wept. We thought he would stay and mourn with the family. We thought he would stand by them, offering what comfort he could. He said: "Take away the stone." He prayed to God, thanking the Lord for hearing him. And then he said: "Lazarus come out." And Lazarus did. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Who will stand by Jesus now? Who will comfort him? Who will call Jesus out of the arms of those who arrested him? (John 11:7-44)

(Thomas moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

VIII. Philip
The Temple

Narrator: Jesus taught wherever he went. Time and again he returned to the Temple, the center of his faith. It had become a place of iniquity; it was becoming a barrier to the repentance of the Israelites. It needed to be cleansed as the people needed to be cleansed.

Philip: Day after day, we would listen to him in the Temple. And we weren't the only ones there. He recalled the words of the prophets. He brought the Law back to life, awakened the Law that was in our hearts. He shared with us the words of God and the will of God. He talked of so many things. He brought the stories of our ancestors back to us. He brought the meaning of our covenantal relationship with God back to us. Some called him a great teacher. Others called him a prophet -- like the prophets of old. He cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers and all those who bought and sold there. He also cleansed our hearts, helping us to remember the Lord's covenant with Abraham, Moses, our Deliverer, our greatest king, David, the building of the first Temple. He made the Temple a dwelling place for the Lord. Where can we go now; for without Jesus, how can we return to the Temple? (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15)

(Philip moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

IX. Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) The Pharisees and Sadducees

Narrator: As Jesus' popularity grew, some were not comfortable with the message he preached and the words he offered. They did not know what to do with this man. They did not know if they should support him. They were blind to what they saw, deaf to what they heard in his teachings, in his healings and in his ministry.

Bartholomew: Wherever we went, the chief priests and the scribes were there. Some questioned Jesus about the things he said. Some questioned him about the people he healed. Some questioned him about doing work on the Sabbath. Some questioned him about the authority by which he said the things he said and did the things he did. There were always questions. They seemed to be at every turn. I do not know why. Some watched him. Others watched those of us who followed him. Still others watched the people who came from everywhere, wanting to hear him, wanting to see him, wanting to be healed by him. A few counselors, like Joseph of Arimathea, spoke with him as with an equal, respected his wisdom, and called him rabbi. What questions are they asking him now? What answers do they expect to hear? What answers will he offer them? Why didn't I go with him to face the Pharisees and the Sadducees? What answers would I give them?

(Bartholomew moves to the table, blows out a candle and places it in the candelabra.)

X. James the son of Alphaeus
Palm Sunday

Narrator: Our expectations aren't always fulfilled. The hope of one day can quickly fade. Although the disciples were with Jesus, and they heard what he said, they were not given to understand it. They could not read the signs; they were too caught up in the present to see what would transpire in the future.

James: How did it all happen? When did it all happen? Wasn't it just a few days ago that Jesus sent us to find a colt? Didn't we come into Jerusalem in the midst of cheers, songs, and laughter? Men, women, and children came out to meet him upon the road, waving palms in the air. How the loud Hosannas rang in the streets! They called him the son of King David. They called him the prophet of Nazareth and Galilee. He had changed the lives of so many. People were healed! People were full of hope! We were full of hope! We felt our world was changing, that a new time was coming. The people were with us. The people were with Jesus. And now, no one is with him, not even one of us. We have fled from his side, leaving him alone in his hour of need. What should I do? Where can I go? (Mark 11:8-10, Luke 19:30-38)

(James moves to the table, blows out a candle, and places it in the candelabra.)

XI. Simon, the Zealot
The Kingdom to Come

Narrator: As clarity comes, as the disciples begin to believe, they are left to deal with what they didn't do on this night. For a time, they will be overwhelmed by their regret, by their failure. But, in time, they remember the significance of Jesus' life. They remember the significance of this night, of the Last Supper, of forgiveness.

Simon: Tonight, Jesus spoke of so many things. He spoke of the promise of a kingdom to come. He spoke of a new covenant between our Lord and the people. He spoke of a new commandment of love. My head buzzes as I try to remember all the things he spoke of. Has it only been a few years since he called our names to follow him, so that he could teach others a new way? He sent us out to share what we had learned, empowering us to speak to the hearts of others wherever we went. What did he say about the kingdom to come? It was about being born anew, about being born of the Spirit. We were to change our ways, to hear the message he shared and to live it. He warned us to be ready, for no one knew, not even he, when this kingdom would arrive. He tried to prepare us for the suffering that would come. And on this night, he must suffer alone. For when they came to arrest him, I didn't have the courage to go with him (Matthew 26:47-57, Luke 22:47-54).

(Simon moves to the table, blows out a candle, and places it in the candelabra.)

XII. Peter
The Last Supper

Narrator: It is dawn. All of the disciples have scattered. They fear that they too will be arrested. They are sorrowful, for Jesus has been taken away. Is it possible he will be taken before the Romans? Is it possible that he will be crucified? The disciples begin to be in their own valley of despair. They do not know what will happen to them. They have forgotten the words given to them in Jesus' teaching, in his preaching. They have forgotten the miracles he has performed. They have forgotten the love he shared. On this night, they have lost themselves, although they have broken bread and drunk from the cup.

Peter: Jesus called me the Rock, because when he asked me, "Who do you say that I am," I answered: "You are the Messiah." Tonight at dinner, after he washed our feet; when he said that one of us would betray him, I swore that I would not, could not do any such thing. I did, in fact, deny that I knew him. Not once, not twice, but three times. And as he said, three times before the cock crowed. I am no rock. In my fear, I have denied the one I have given up everything to follow. In my ignorance, I have lost all he sought to teach us these past three years. I do not know where to go from here. I do not know what will happen. I have failed him; I have failed the other disciples. Oh if I could only break bread and drink from the cup with him one more time. But wait, maybe I can. For he said that each time we do it, we should do it in remembrance of him. And so I shall, and every time I do it, I will remember this night, I will remember what we have shared (Matthew 26:34, 69-75, John 13:4-10).

(Peter moves to the table and blows out the last candle and places it in the candelabra.)

Narrator(s) leave and those designated to strip the worship space enter and move to their designated spots.

(Jesus enters silently, and blows out the last candle, the one that has been lit and has been in the candelabra the entire time. All vestments and fixtures in the church are removed by preselected people. All depart in silence.)



About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford serves First United Methodist Church of St. Clair Shores, Michigan. This is her second appointment. She graduated from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a specialization in Biblical languages in May, 2005. The Rev. Crawford received her Ph. D. in Audiology and was a professor in the field, teaching at The University of Iowa and Wayne State University, College of Medicine. Her research included the area of sickle cell disease. When she answered God's call to serve in the ministry, she resigned from her position at Wayne State University and entered seminary. She has served as a member of the Flint District Faith Development Committee and is the Detroit Annual Conference Chair of the Hunger/UMCOR Committee. She has been invited to be a part of Bishop Keaton's initiative for the New Church Start program for the Detroit Annual Conference. Rev. Dr. Crawford lives in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, with her son.

"Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley: A New Tenebrae Service" Copyright © 2009 Rev. Dr. Margie R. Crawford. All Rights Reserved. Posted with permission.