Join our mailing list

Were You There in Jerusalem When He Was on Trial? - Matthew 26 and 27

A service plan for Lent focused on the trial of Christ that took place immediately after his arrest and the suffering of Christ at the hands of an angry society-for us, part of a Lenten series following specific events that led up to Christ's death and resurrection.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

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

The focus of this service is the trial of Christ that took place immediately after his arrest. We place ourselves there at the trial and imagine that we are observers of (or participants in) its events. So the theme of this service must be the suffering of Christ at the hands of an angry society-for us.


Prelude: "Ah, Holy Jesus" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

*The Call to Worship

*Song of Adoration: "Man of Sorrows-What a Name" (st. 1-3) PsH 482, TH 246, TWC 226, UMH 165

*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. Amen.

*Song of Response: "Worthy Is Christ" (st. 1-2) PsH 629, RN 80, SFL 170


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"

(Isa. 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.
Matthew 27:45-50
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

Offertory Prayer

Offertory: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

The Children's Moment


Ministry of Music: "Part of the Plan," Sleeth [see <href="#music" >music notes]

The Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2, 11, 24-31
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*Song: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" (st. 1-3) PH 97, PsH 381, TWC 225, UMH 290 [see <href="#music" >music notes]

Sermon: "Were You There in Jerusalem When He Was on Trial?"
(Were You There - #4)

Response: "Were You There?" PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, TWC 218

  1. "Were you there when he suffered silently?"
  2. "Were you there when abuse got out of hand?"
  3. "Do you trust he takes all your guilt away?"


The Prayers of the People

Song: "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?" (st. 1-4) PH 93, PsH 386, RL 285, RN 183, TH 248, TWC 231, UMH 289

*Our Profession:
As our substitute he suffered all his years on earth,
especially in the horrible torture of the cross.
He carried God's judgment on our sin;
his sacrifice removes our guilt.
He walked out of the grave, the Lord of life!
He conquered sin and death.
We are set right with God,
we are given new life,
and called to walk with him
in freedom from sin's dominion.

Being both God and man,
Jesus is the only Mediator
between God and his people.
He alone paid the debt of our sin;
there is no other Savior!
In him the Father chose those
whom he would save.
His electing love sustains our hope;
God's grace is free
to save sinners who offer nothing
but their need for mercy.
(Our World Belongs to God, art. 27, 28)

*Song: "Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus" (st. 1-2) PsH 395


*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

* Response: "Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus" (st. 4)

Postlude: "Were You There"
or "Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus"

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. The sermon today needs a clear link to previous sermons so that it is seen as another step in a process. The plotting by leaders, the betrayal by Judas, and the prayer of Jesus provide the backdrop for the agony that this sermon and service portrays.
  2. Perhaps you'll want to create a verbal picture of Jerusalem so that hearers will be able to enter the scene of this event. On Wednesday the Jewish leaders finalized their plot. On Thursday Jesus met with the disciples in the upper room and then went out to Gethsemane. The arrest occurred there late Thursday evening, and the trial began very late Thursday night and concluded early Friday morning. There were two different phases of the trial. The Jewish phase began with his arrest in the Garden, then got underway at the home of Annas the High Priest, shifted to Caiaphas' palace, and then moved to the meeting of the whole Sanhedrin. The Roman phase of the trial followed-first with Pilate, then to Herod, and finally back to Pilate. In this description of the event, the character of the Jewish justice system and of Pilate's leadership certainly deserve attention.
  3. We cringe at the events today, for it was obviously a trial in which abuse got out of hand. While our laws today aim for fair treatment even of those on trial, no such protections seem to be in place here. Matthew 26 and 27 name several groups who participated-religious leaders, civil leaders, and soldiers and guards. Even the disciples contributed by their desertion. A careful analysis of these passages will enable you to identify physical abuse, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse.
  4. But there is a "story behind the story" here. We get a glimpse here of the perversity of the human heart and it is not a nice picture-no nicer than glimpses provided by certain atrocities in our day! We see the Jews' anger at Jesus' claim to be the son of God. The more he made that clear, the more they hated it. We also see their rejection and ridicule of his claim to be King.
  5. Suppose with your hearers that "we were there." How would we have reacted? What would we have said and done? Yet, we were there . . . in Jesus' mind and heart. For he was ready and willing to endure such treatment and rejection to provide our redemption!

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. Resources for the suggested prelude based on "Ah, Holy Jesus" can be found in the following:



  • Behnke, John A. Road to Calvary . Concordia 97-7072 [2004] (E).
  • Brahms, Johannes. Eleven Chorale Preludes (ed. West). Schirmer 2091 (M).
  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 5. AMSI SP-102 [1985] (E-M).
  • Clarke, Andrew. Chorale Prelude on Ah, Holy Jesus. Morningstar MSM-10-310 [1991] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. A Suite of Passion Hymn Settings. Concordia 97-4843 [1967] (E).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 1. SMP KK234 [1978] (E, adaptable to piano).
  • Leupold, A.W. An Organ Book. Chantry Music Press [1960] (E-M).
  • Walcha, H. Chorale Preludes, bk. 1. Peters 4850 (E-M).
  • Young, Gordon. Hymn Preludes for the Church Service. Flammer 4188 [1964] (E-M).


  • Berns, Susan Ullom. Ah, Holy Jesus. Lorenz HB273-3 [1989] (3-4 octaves, E-M).

2. Resources for the suggested offertory based on "Go to Dark Gethsemane" can be found in the following:



  • Albrecht, Timothy. Grace Notes X. Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7561-4 [2002] (E).
  • Bingham, Seth. Twelve Hymn Preludes, set 1. H.W. Grey [1942] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David (1989x). Augsburg Organ Library - Lent. Augsburg 11-11036 [2000] (E-M).
  • Cherwien, David. Lamb of God. Morningstar MSM-10-302 [1989] (E-M).
  • Held, Wilbur. A Suite of Passion Hymn Settings. Concordia 97-4843 [1967] (E).
  • Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 6. SMP KK339 [1986] (E, adaptable to piano).


  • Kinyon, Barbara. Lenten Bells. Agape 1423 [1990] (2-3 octaves, level 3).

3. The anthem "Part of the Plan" by Natalie Sleeth can be found in congregational form in the children's hymnal Songs for LiFE (164). It can also be found in the unison collection "The Sunday Songbook," published by Hinshaw Music HMB-177 [1991] (E).

4. An organ alternative accompaniment for "Go to Dark Gethsemane" can be found in Donald Busarow'sThirty More Accompaniments for Hymns in Canon published by Augsburg 11-10163 1992. This setting in two-part canon is particularly effective when used with the text of the second stanza, "Follow to the judgment hall . . .".

5. 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].

6. Alternative accompaniments for "Ah, Holy Jesus" can be found in the following sources:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001].
  • Ferguson, John. Ah, Holy Jesus. Concertato published by Morningstar MSM-50-3012.
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 2. Ludwig O-07 [1983].

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

WERE YOU THERE PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, TWC 218, UMH 288


  • 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 "Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus" can be found in these sources:



  • Haan, Raymond H. Welsh Hymn Tune Preludes. SMP KK426 [1989] (E-M).
  • Harris, David S. Ten Hymn Preludes in Trio Style, set 2. H.W. Grey GB643 [1978] (E).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. It might be wise to formulate a call to worship that points to two facts: we are coming to worship God, but in doing so we'll be stepping into a scene that is not pleasant, but rather distressing and painful. We will watch Jesus being abused while on trial. Set the tone for this worship experience in such a way at the very beginning. Transitions into the Service of Renewal should include the same emphasis. Notice that the Service of Renewal is virtually the same each week for Lent, with only the Scripture reading changed. See the introduction to Lent (posted for February 13, 2005) for an explanation and complete script.
  2. The children's moment could also include an explanation of the suffering of Jesus during his trial. Many children are able to identify being hurt by someone else (perhaps the "bully" at school); however, depending on the age range of the children, the degree of description that is used should be limited to what they are able to handle. Since the matter of abuse within our homes and families is a sensitive concern, your knowledge of your community and congregation should determine and shape what references to it you believe will be helpful or simply counterproductive.
  3. The Scripture reading for this service will require some very careful thought to make it striking and meaningful. Certain selections from Matthew 26-27 will set different dimensions of this event before the hearers. The use of multiple readers will aid the listeners in sensing the change of scene and attendant temperaments. It would not be difficult to script out these selections for different readers. One reader could be the general narrator. Another reader could speak the responses of Jesus to his interrogators. On the other verses, using a different voice every time there is a change of scene, or a shift of focus, will make it more effective. When multiple readers are used as a Scripture drama reading it usually is wise to have them stand near each other, each at their own microphone. It will be read most seamlessly if they have had time to rehearse it together for inflection and smooth transitions.
  4. The response to the word of God needs to be led very thoughtfully. The prayers of the people should include thanksgiving for Christ's willingness to suffer and intercession that all may bow before him as Christ and King. The song "Ah, Holy Jesus," because of its reflective spirit, could be considered part of the prayer and sung immediately and unannounced at the conclusion of the prayer. The profession from Our World Belongs to God should be expressed in unison, strongly, while standing, as the congregation's profession of faith before the world. The final song, "Hail, O Once-Despised Jesus," provides the same profession in song.