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Were You There in the Upper Room When He Prayed? - John 17

A service plan for Lent focused on Jesus' prayer found in John 17, showing his sense of mission, passion, and his deep desire that God's purposes be served, 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?" in which we focus on major events in the passion of Christ and ask hearers to step into the events and experience its drama. Some of the events that are considered are taken out of chronological sequence to better fit the Sundays of the season.

The focus for this service is the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus found in John 17. It is a sacred moment when we are given the privilege to "sit in" on this prayer of Jesus. We learn much about his sense of mission, his passion, and his deep desire that God's purposes be served. We learn about Jesus as a man of prayer, and we learn about his concern for the work of the Father. At the same time we are able to "feel prayed for" by Jesus!


Prelude: "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

*The Call to Worship
Let us worship God,
who reconciled us to himself through Christ.
We are new creations;
the old has gone, the new has come!
Let us worship God as Christ's ambassadors.
Through us and through our worship
may we announce the good news to all.
Let us worship God in spirit and in truth;
Praise God! We are reconciled, redeemed, renewed! (The Worship Sourcebook, p. 553)

*Opening Hymn: "Sing Praise to Our Creator" PsH 147

*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: "Father, We Love You" PsH 634, RN 37, SFL 77, TWC 10 [see <href="#music" >music notes]


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.
Matthew 27:32-44
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: "Beautiful Savior" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

The Children's Moment


The Prayer for Illumination

Gracious Spirit, we approach your Holy Word with awe today for we aim to listen in
on the precious prayer that our Savior spoke. Open our hearts that we may pray
with him attentively and sensitively. And, having prayed with him, may we learn
how to pray better ourselves. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

Reading the Prayer of Jesus: John 17:1-26 (see <href="#liturgy" >liturgy notes)

Sung Response: "Beautiful Savior" (st. 1, 4) PsH 461

Sermon: "Were You There in the Upper Room When He Prayed?"
(Were You There - #3)

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 he prayed for you and me?"
3. "Do you trust he'll protect you from all harm?"


The Prayers of the People

Anthem: "Nearer, Still Nearer," Larson

*Song: "Abide with Me" (st. 1, 3) PH 543, PsH 442, RL 440, TH 402, TWC 365, UMH 700

*Our Affirmation of Faith
My only comfort in life and death is
that I am not my own but belong-
body and soul,
in life and death-
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
(Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1)

*Song: "My Jesus, I Love Thee" PsH 557, RN 275, TH 648, TWC 100, UMH 172


*The Benediction with Congregational Amen.

*Song: "Holy is the Lord" RN 203
(The choir will sing it through the first time; the congregation will join the choir the second time.)

Postlude: "Were You There " [see <href="#music" >music notes]
or "Beautiful Savior"

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. Have you ever stepped into a room only to discover that you have walked in on someone praying? You felt awkward, perhaps, and were not quite sure whether you belonged there or not. John 17 isn't "normal" Scripture reading. It's sitting in on a very personal prayer that Jesus is praying. See the liturgy notes below for some reflections on how to read this prayer publicly. Because it is Jesus' personal prayer it is a precious passage and must be treated in that spirit.
  2. Though some listeners may assume that Jesus prayed these words in the Garden of Gethsemane, John makes it clear the location is still the upper room. All of John 13-17 took place there. Note that John 18:1 indicates that Jesus left the upper room and went to Gethsemane after this prayer was completed.
  3. As we listen to Jesus pray two impressions may come: Jesus had a very close and intimate relationship with his Father, and Jesus had been faithful in obedience to his mission.
  4. Jesus focuses on three things in this prayer:
    1. In verses 1-5 Jesus prays for himself. The time has come, his work is completed, and he fervently desires to serve the glory of God.
    2. In verses 6-19 Jesus prays for his disciples. He has revealed God's truth to them, and has called them to stay in the world for their mission, yet asks that they be protected while they stay in this world. (Don't you wonder what went through his mind as he knew that Judas was out striking his bargain, Peter would deny him, all would desert him, and so on?)
    3. In verses 20-26 Jesus prays for all believers. (Notice how the circle of his attention is becoming ever wider!) Jesus is assuming that the church will grow and prays for its unity. In expressing his hope for the unity of the church, the pattern of the Holy Trinity is his model. He knows the witness of the church will be dependent on that. Finally he concludes his prayer with a picture of himself in heaven, welcoming all his followers into glory.
  5. We were there when he prayed, for all of us as his children are included in that prayer and were very much in his heart.

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. The prelude suggestions on the hymn "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" can be found in the following sources:


  • Bender, Jan (1974 Chantry). Augsburg Organ Library - Easter. Augsburg 11-11075 [2000] (M).
  • Candlyn, T. Frederick H. Prelude on Mit Freuden Zart. Abingdon APM-148 [1961] (E-M).
  • Ferguson, John. Three Psalm Preludes. Augsburg 11-10823 [1997] (M).
  • Haan, Raymond H. Canonic Variations on With High Delight. Concordia 97-6167 [1992] (E-M).
  • Leavitt, John. Three Hymn Preludes. Concordia 97-5894 [1985] (E-M).
  • Leavitt, John. With High Delight. Concordia 97-6845 [2000] (E-M).
  • Wolniakowski, Michael. Partita on With High Delight, Let Us Unite. Morningstar MSM-10-416 [1996] (M-D).


  • McChesney, Kevin. Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above. AGEHR AG23006 [1993] (2-3 octaves, M).

2. A descant for the song of response, "Father, We Love You," can be found in the children's hymnal Songs for LiFE #77. This could be sung or played by solo instrument or layered into the keyboard accompaniment.

3. Offertory suggestions on "Beautiful Savior" can be found in the following sources:


  • Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 3.AMSI OR-6 [1983] (E-M).
  • Hamilton, Gregory. Augsburg Organ Library - Epiphany. Augsburg 11-11073 [2001] (E-M).
  • Harris, David S. Ten Hymn Preludes in Trio Style, set 2. H.W. Grey GB643 [1978] (E).
  • Hobby, Robert A. For All the Saints. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7537-1 [2002] (E-M).
  • Johnson, David N. Beautiful Savior. H.W. Grey 935 [1967] (E-M, adaptable for piano).
  • Peeters, Flor. Hymn Preludes for the Liturgical Year, vol. 6. Peters 6406 [1966] (E-M).
  • Stearns, Peter Pindar. Twelve Hymn Preludes for General Use. Flammer HF-5145 [1987] (E-M).
  • Young, Gordon. Chorale Preludes on Seven Hymn Tunes. Flammer HF-5002 [1960] (E-M).


  • David, Anne Marie. Here I Am, Lord. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7566-5 [2002] (E-M).


  • Moklebust, Cathy. Meditation on "Beautiful Savior." Choristers Guild CGB-175 [1996] (3-5 octaves, 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. You may also consider using another setting of "Beautiful Savior" as suggested above.

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).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. You will recall that the Service of Renewal is the same for each of the Sundays in Lent. Look back at the explanation in the Introduction to Lent, posted for February 13. Only the Gospel reading is changed for each Sunday.
  2. The children's moment is placed after the offertory which gives flexibility for its content. If the children will be remaining in the worship service, we suggest you use your time with them to speak about Jesus' prayer life, the type of Scripture passage we'll be reading, and then pray with them. If they will be leaving the service, you may speak about a section of the liturgy, or some aspect of Lent to reinforce its nature.
  3. The Scripture passage for this service has a special character. Because it is a personal prayer of the Savior it should be given special attention in the liturgy. We suggest preceding it with the Prayer for Illumination to prepare the listeners. Then suggest that the worshipers do not open their Bibles to follow the reading (as we hope they regularly do!). This time invite them to close their eyes as they would when being led in prayer by someone. Ask them to imagine that they are in the upper room around the large table with Jesus and the disciples while Jesus prays. Maybe you will even be free to suggest that they all hold hands as a circle "around the table" while he prays. Then the pastor or worship leader may proceed to read the prayer from within the congregation, perhaps down the center aisle, in the midst of the congregation. Ahead of time, prepare the congregation to respond to the prayer with the first and last stanzas of "Beautiful Savior."
  4. After the sermon, the worshipers respond to the prayer of Jesus with their prayers, song, anthem, and affirmations of faith. Be sure to clearly communicate the connection of these responses to the prayer of Jesus.