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Were You There in Jerusalem When He Carried a Cross Out of Town? - Luke 23

A service plan for Lent reflecting on the suffering of Christ leading up to the crucifixion, part of a Lenten series following specific events that led up to Christ's death and resurrection.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

The general series theme for the season of Lent is "Were You There?" We focus on major events in the passion of Christ and ask hearers to step into the events and experience the drama. This is now the fifth of these services for Lent. Some of the events are taken out of chronological sequence to better fit the Sundays of the season.

The focus of this service is the suffering of Christ as we see it occurring when his trial was completed, he was led out of town to be crucified, and was expected to carry his own cross. While he did so, we see him collapsing under the weight of all the suffering to which he was subjected. We must attempt to "stand with" the crowd that watched him and try to imagine what our own reactions might have been.


Prelude: "Adagio for Strings," Barber [see <href="#music" >music notes]
or "Beneath the Cross of Jesus"

The Call to Worship

*Song of Reflection: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" (st. 1-3) PH 92, RL 310, TH 251, TWC 216, UMH 297

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


The Call to Confession
The Scriptures tell us that God desires to forgive his people. We have sinned and Jesus has
come to pay the price for it. The prophet Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"

(Isaiah 53:6). Therefore, trusting the grace and mercy of God, let us confess our sins to God
and to one another.

Sung Prayer of Confession: "O Christ, the Lamb of God" PsH 257, RN 216, SFL 44
or "Kyrie" RN 86, SNC 52, 53, UMH 483
or "Lamb of God" SNC 253

*The Assurance of God's Pardon
Please rise for the Gospel Reading. [pause]
Hear the reading of the Holy Gospel in which we are told the story of the suffering and death of
Jesus Christ for our pardon and salvation.
Luke 23:44-49
This is the Gospel of Christ: “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his
wounds we are healed"
(Isaiah 53:5b).

*The Passing of the Peace
Leader: The peace of Christ be with you.
All: And also with you.
(The worshipers greet each other saying, "The peace of Christ be with you.")

*Our Sung Response:
"What Wondrous Love" (st. 1, 3) PH 85, PsH 379, RN 277, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212, UMH 292
or "I Love the Lord" SNC 227

Anthem: "Jesus Paid It All," Sterling [see <href="#music" >music notes]

Offertory Prayer

Offertory: "Via Dolorosa," Pethel

The Children's Moment


*Song: "Oh, How He Loves You and Me" (st. 1-2) RN 27, SFL 163, TWC 479

The Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Luke 23:26-33
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Silence for Reflection

Song of Reflection:
"Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed" (st. 1-4) PH 78, PsH 385, TH 254, TWC 208, UMH 294

Sermon: "Were You There in Jerusalem When He Carried a Cross Out of Town?"
(Were You There - #5)

Response: "Were You There?" PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, TWC 218
1. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
2. "Were you there when they led him through the streets?"
3. "Will you take up your cross and follow him?"

Silence for Reflection


The Prayers of the People

Anthem: "Nearer, Still Nearer," Larson

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen.

*Song: "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross" (st. 1-3) TH 264, TWC 549, UMH 301

Postlude: "Were You There" or "What Wondrous Love" [see<href="#music" > music notes]

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. To set the stage for this sermon, it may be wise to revisit and reset the timeline of the events in the suffering of Christ. Since we've altered the timeline in this series, we must take care to remove any confusion. This event takes place very early Friday morning. Jesus has been on trial all night after being arrested the evening before in the Garden. He will spend today (Friday) on the cross and be buried by sundown. The episode of this passage takes place on the journey from the hall of judgment to Calvary.
  2. This event reveals a very gruesome parade on the way to the location for execution. The parade is public-the criminal is heavily guarded, a sign identifies his crimes, and crowds gather. Such a parade was not only a matter of transportation (to get to the location for execution) but also of humiliation (to put the criminal on display before the people).
  3. Help your listeners to step into the crowd and look around at who is there. Pilate obviously stayed behind in the judgment hall. The religious leaders are there, feeling relieved that they have finally succeeded in getting Jesus condemned. Soldiers are there, doing their duty. The crowd is gathering, some angry, some confused, and some remembering the resurrection of Lazarus only a week before. Women and other followers are there and you can hear their wailing. The disciples . . . we're not sure where they are!
  4. This story focuses on the interruption of the parade-when Jesus collapsed under his cross and Simon of Cyrene received the surprise of a lifetime in being coerced into carrying the cross. Some research will help you learn about Simon. Cyrene is in North Africa, where there was a large colony of Jews. It seems Simon must have been making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The task of carrying a cross is distasteful, if not downright disgusting. Did he go all the way to Golgotha, and did he remain there for the day? Let your creative, biblical imagination picture how he must have felt and what must have gone on in his heart. Let the same imagination picture what he said afterwards to his wife and children. Here was a man who saw the suffering of Christ up close. What do you think he said and thought and felt?
  5. Perhaps you'll want to do some research comparing Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13. Rufus was one of Simon's sons, and that name surfaces again in the greetings to the church in Rome. Why would Mark mention the names if they were not well known? Is there a possibility that this family ended up in Rome with a church in their home?

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)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber is arranged for organ by William Strickland. This suggested prelude is published by Schirmer 41760 [1949] (M). Resources for the alternative prelude based on "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" can be found in the following:



  • Cherwien, David. Lamb of God. Morningstar MSM-10-302 [1989] (E-M).


  • Medema, Ken. Sanctuary. Genevox 4181-16 [1989] (M).


  • Kinyon, Barbara Baltzer. Beneath the Cross of Jesus. Beckenhorst HB122 [1992] (3-5 octaves, M).
  • Kinyon, Barbara. Lenten Bells. Agape 1423 [1990] (2-3 octaves, level 3).

2. The SATB anthem "Jesus Paid It All," arranged by Robert Sterling, is published by Glory Sound A6223 [1985] (M).

3. The suggested offertory, "Via Dolorosa," is a piano arrangement by Stan Pethel in the collectionContemporary Piano - 12 Favorites, published by Lillenas MB 591 (E-M).

4. Because spirituals were passed on through aural/oral tradition, we have taken the liberty to craft verses on "Were You There" that tie in with the theme and sermon. An alternative harmonization for this spiritual can be found in Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, vol. 3, arranged by John Ferguson and published by Ludwig O-10 [1986]. An alternative harmonization for piano by Michael Hassell can be found in Let It Rip! At the Piano, published by Augsburg Fortress 11-11045 [2000].

5. The SATB anthem "Nearer, Still Nearer," arranged by Lloyd Larson, is published by Beckenhorst BP 1206 [1983] (E-M).

6. You may wish to consider using different settings of "Were You There" for the postlude throughout Lent. You will find many suggestions here.



  • Callahan, Charles. A Lenten Suite. Morningstar MSM-10-312 [1991] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Seasonal Interpretations Lent-Easter. Summa SP-112 [1998] (E-M).
  • Diemer, Emma Lou (1975). Augsburg Organ Library - Lent. Augsburg 11-11036 [2000] (E-M).
  • Diemer, Emma Lou. Celebration. Augsburg 11-9097 [1975] (E-M).
  • Page, Anna Laura. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Boardman 4570-46 [1981] (E).
  • Purvis, Richard. Eleven Pieces for the Church Organ. MCA Music 03257-068 [1957] (M).
  • Stearns, Peter Pindar. Eight Hymn Preludes for Lent. Flammer HF-5133 [1985] (E-M).
  • Wood, Dale. Wood Works. SMP KK357 [1986] (E-M).
  • Young, Gordon. Hymn Preludes for the Church Service. Flammer 4188 [1964] (E).


  • Boertje, Barbara. Piano Improvisations for the Church Year. Unity 70/1194U [1998] (M).
  • Carter, John. The Wondrous Cross. Hope 1747 [1994] (E-M).
  • Wilhelmi, Teresa. Hymns . . . Light Jazz Style. Word 301 0136 315 [1997] (E-M).


  • McChesney, Kevin. Were You There. Lorenz HB-363 [1991] (3-5 octaves, E-M).

The alternative suggestion, based on "What Wondrous Love," can be found in the following:



  • Barber, Samuel. Wondrous Love. Schirmer 44477 [1959] (M-D).
  • Callahan, Charles. Six Meditations on American Folk Hymns. Concordia 97-6140 [1992] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 9. AMSI SP-106 [1992] (E-M).
  • Johnson, David N. Hymns Settings for Organ. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7498-7 [2002] (E).
  • Johnson, David N. Wondrous Love. Augsburg 11-0821 [1965] (E).
  • Manz, Paul. God of Grace. Morningstar MSM-10-599 [2004] (M).
  • Middleswarth, Jean E. Were You There. Broadman 4570-64 (POP) [1984] (E-M).
  • Phillips, Don. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (ed. Lyon, Sharron). Broadman 4570-31 [1976] (E).
  • Young, Gordon. Preludes on the Familiar. Fischer 0 4886 [1972] (E-M).


  • Carter, John. Folk Hymns for Piano. Hope 240 [1987] (E-M).
  • Carter, John. The Wondrous Cross. Hope 1747 [1994] (E-M).
  • Wilhelmi, Teresa. Hymns . . . Light Jazz Style. Word 301 0136 315 [1997] (E-M).


  • Larson, Lloyd. What Wondrous Love. Beckenhorst HB 150 [1994] (3-5 octaves, E-M).
  • Wagner, Douglas E. What Wondrous Love. Agape 1312 [1988] (3-5 octaves, E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. From the outset of the service the visuals in the sanctuary and the words and gestures of the pastor or worship leader should alert the worshipers to the fact that we are moving into the deeper and more agonizing parts of the journey toward Calvary. If it was difficult to observe Jesus on trial (last week), it is more difficult to watch him collapse under the weight of his cross. The closer we get to Calvary the deeper the agony! The songs of the service have been selected with that in mind. The words of the worship leader should point to the same.
  2. Recall that we are using a standard Service of Renewal for the entire Lenten season with only the Gospel reading changed for each week.
  3. The children's moment is a good time to reflect with the children about what Jesus endured and also to explain to them what some of the Roman practices were. (However, be sure not to go into more detail than their young minds can handle!) Have them picture a parade through town where a criminal is led to jail. Ask them to wonder what it would be like if their father were pulled out of the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. How would they feel?
  4. If your prayer for illumination is extemporaneous, we encourage you to make it a prayer for grace to step into the deep pathos of this event. To approach a passage such as this is to enter holy ground that is marked by great agony and it will require special insight and grace from the Spirit.
  5. At two locations in this service we have included "Silence for Reflection." Though some may be uncomfortable with silence in worship, this season needs it. After the Scripture reading and response, forty-five seconds of silence can be very rich, especially when it is broken to sing "Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed." Similarly, when the sermon in concluded with singing "Were You There?" time for personal reflection is needed.