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Growing With Peter Series: Unimaginable Words - Matthew 26

A Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service in a Lenton series reflecting on the death of our Savior.

Theme of the Service

This worship service can be scheduled for either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday evening and is intended to be a reflection on the death of our Savior. It is patterned after a tenebrae service, a service of "shadows". Readings of the gospel accounts of the suffering and death of our Savior are accompanied by a gradual diminishing of light in the worship space. After marking his suffering and death we approach the Lord's Table for the sacrament.


Prelude: "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High", Manz
"Passacaglia in C Minor", J.S. Bach

*Processional: "Christ, We Do All Adore Thee", Dubois
The entrance of the cross begins the processional.

*God's Greeting with Congregational AMEN!

*Song: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" PH 92, RL 310/311, TH 251, TWC 216


The Shadow of the Upper Room

The Reading of Scripture: John 13:12-30

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song: "Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights" SNC129:1-3

The Shadow of the Garden

The Reading of Scripture: Luke 22:39-44

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Anthem: "Thy Will Be Done", Courtney

The Shadow of Arrest

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 26:47-56

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" PH 97, PsH 381, TWC 225

The Shadow of Denial

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 26:69-75

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!


(Growing with Peter - #7)

Song: "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended" PH 93, PsH 386, RL 285, RN 183, TH 248, TWC 231

The Shadow of Crucifixion

The Reading of Scripture: Luke 23:26-38

The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!

Song: "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" PH 98, PsH 383, RL 300, RN 235, TH 247, TWC 221

The Shadow of Death

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 27:45-51

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Song: "Lord, Have Mercy upon Us" PsH 258, PH 572, RL 564, RN 85, SFL 43, TWC 821

Silence for Reflection

Anthem: "Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs", Laubengayer


The Pastoral Prayer

*Song: "What Wondrous Love" PH 85, PsH 379, RN 277, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212

The Invitation to the Table of the Lord

The Words of Institution - Matthew 26:26-29

Our Commemoration of the Death of Our Lord

While the elements of communion are received, the congregation sings the following songs:
"Take and Eat this Bread", O'Brien
"Jesus, Remember Me" PsH 217, RN 227, SFL 168, SNC 143, TWC 822, WOV 740>
"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" PH 100/1, PsH 384, RN 292/3, SFL 166, TH 252, TWC 213

The Prayer of Thanksgiving


The Tolling of the Bell

*Song: "The Lord's Prayer", Malotte

*The Benediction with Congregational AMEN!

Postlude: "Aria", Peeters

* you are invited to stand

We encourage you to leave in quiet reflection as you think upon the death of your Lord. Offering plates are placed at the doors so that you are able to leave your thank offering. Please return in a spirit of anticipation and celebration on Sunday morning to mark the resurrection of our Lord.

Sermon Notes:

Doing justice to this vignette in Peter's life requires careful attention to getting inside his emotions and reactions. The events and facts are clear enough and known by everyone. Peter denied his Lord, three times, with great vehemence, even after he had been warned of it.

The power of this story, however, will be found inside Peter's soul. It will be necessary to get inside him and live with him. We would suggest that you even consider doing such a sermon in the first-person narrative style.

The perspective must be that of Peter's reflections on the whole experience afterwards. Let him review what happened to him in the upper room, how frightened they were in the Garden, the hard choices the disciples faced, the terrifying fear he felt around the fire when others confronted him about being a follower of Christ, and how he chose to protect his own skin rather than profess his allegiance to Christ.

It was his darkest night and he soon realized how deeply he had hurt Jesus.

But sometimes healing begins during the darkest part of the night. The rooster crowed. Jesus looked. Peter wept. And the road to healing began. It would be good to give a glimpse of Jesus' restoration of Peter a few weeks later so that grace shines forth here. If Peter's words "I don't know him" are unimaginable words to him, then Jesus' words "feed my sheep" are equally unimaginable - the one portraying the depth of our sin, the other the depth of God's mercy!

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:

PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)=
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The music of this service must aid the worshiper in thinking of and responding deeply to the sacrifice of Christ. The pace of the service should reflect the desire to be thought-filled. In light of these considerations, incorporate some instrumental music that is hymn-based to engage the worshiper's devotion, and some that is not based on hymnody so their thoughts and prayers can be free of directed textual material. Spend time in preparing introductions and registrations for the hymns that will reflect well the pathos embodied in the texts.
  2. The prelude music by Paul Manz was originally published by Concordia in "Ten Chorale Improvisations" set 9 (97-5556 [1980]) (E-M). It has since been reissued by Morningstar. The Bach Passacaglia with its insistent and persistent theme draws people into the somberness of this service. It can be found in many different editions of Bach's major preludes and fugues. Though difficult, it is well worth the effort to learn.
  3. The processional music is the closing chorus from "The Seven Last Words" by Theodore Dubois and is published separately by Fort Vance Publications. The final two measures can serve as a frame to the body of this piece. Have the basses sing their final two measures and then add the tenors, altos and sopranos consecutively before singing the chorale. At the conclusion of the chorale, repeat the final two measures while subtracting voice parts so that the bass line sung alone concludes the processional. (The choir can be positioned surrounding the congregation as the cross is carried to the front of the sanctuary. See Liturgy Notes below, #2.)
  4. An introduction to the opening hymn can be crafted from David Cherwien's setting in "Lamb of God" published by Morningstar MSM-10-320 [1989] (E-M).
  5. Free harmonizations for "Throughout These Lenten Days and Nights" can be found in Robert Hobby's "Three Evening Hymns Set 2" also published by Morningstar MSM-10-514 [1998] (E-M) (Tallis' Canon).
  6. "Thy Will Be Done" by Craig Courtney is published by Beckenhorst BP1263 [1985] (M).
  7. Consider using Donald Busarow's canon arrangement in "Thirty More Accompaniments for Hymns in Canon" published by Augsburg 11-10163 [1992] (E). This setting works very well with the text of the second stanza.
  8. Consider using John Ferguson's concertato on "Ah, Holy Jesus" published by Morningstar MSM-50-3012 [1991] either as printed with choir inclusion or with the organ accompaniment supporting the congregational singing.
  9. An introduction to "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" can be crafted from Michael Burkhardt's setting in "Five Lenten Hymn Improvisations" published by Morningstar MSM-10-309 [1990] (E-M).
  10. "Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs" by Paul Laubengayer is an SATB setting of the Isaiah 53 passage with a C instrument obbligato that is beautiful when played on an oboe (Morningstar MSM-50-3025 [1993]) (E).
  11. "Take and Eat This Bread" is a responsorial anthem by Francis Patrick O'Brien. Have your congregation join the choir on the refrains of this piece (GIA-3768 [1992]) (E).
  12. Descants written for treble instruments on "Jesus, Remember Me" can be found in the Psalter Hymnal.
  13. An introduction to "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" can be crafted from Michael Burkhardt's setting in "Five Lenten Hymn Improvisations" published by Morningstar MSM-10-309 [1990] (E-M).
  14. "The Lord's Prayer" by Albert Malotte is published as a choral anthem by Schirmer 9762 [1948]. When used congregationally omit the interludes and craft both a choral (4-part) introduction and accompaniment from the anthem.
  15. "Aria" by Flor Peeters is a reflective free piece in which the melody line could be taken by a solo instrument (Heuwekemeijer 265 [1946]).

Liturgy Notes:

1. This service is designed for use either on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday evening, with the assumption that in either case the Lord's Supper is included. You will probably want to make some of your own modifications to suit each occasion, either in the selections of which "shadows" are included, and/or in their length.

2. The cross bearer leads the processional; choir and other participants (readers, pastor, etc.) follow. One of the youth carried a very rough-hewn cross down the center aisle. He proceeded very slowly, pausing at a half-dozen locations briefly. When he arrived at the front of the worship space he set the cross upright in a stand. (It could also rest on steps, or whatever works best in your worship space.) In order for the cross to be seen, it is necessary to find a placement for the choir that will not obstruct the view. When the choir reached the front, it moved around to the sides to surround the congregation as the cross was placed. Because of the number of participants, it would be wise to rehearse and time the processional.

3. We suggest that each of the Scripture readings is done by lay persons of the congregation, usually from a podium off to the side, so that attention is focused on a cross that is central in the pulpit area. Such readers must be sure to prepare their readings well, perhaps with some coaching and rehearsal time. If possible, use a small reading light at the podium, so that the readers will not be affected by the dimming of the lights.

4. At each "shadow" (after each Scripture reading), the light in the worship space is diminished, with a pause before each song. The worship space is in darkness briefly after the "shadow of death", so that the time for reflection happens in darkness. After that the lights can be turned up until the close of the service.

5. Choices will have to be made about which elements of the Lord's Supper liturgy is included in this service. At the very minimum, the pastor should make clear who is welcome to participate and include the words of institution from Matthew 26. In observing the sacrament the worshipers can be served in the pew or they can come forward to receive the elements. We find that at such a significant service, worshipers find it very meaningful to come forward and approach the table. They should be welcomed with a greeting or blessing by the pastor. It is important that parents be encouraged to bring their children with them, and that the pastor extends a personal blessing to each child.

6. The slow tolling of a low handbell 7 times signifies the completeness of Christ's sacrifice for us. During the tolling, the lights of the sanctuary can be dimmed so that only a light on the empty cross remains. The service may close with the congregational singing of the Lord's Prayer. There are many sung versions and we have often used the Malotte setting. We have encouraged the people to leave the darkened sanctuary in reflective silence.