From the Upper Room to the Cross: A service including drama, footwashing, and communion

The Maundy Thursday service on these pages includes a dramatized retelling of the last supper and a dramatic reading of our Lord’s suffering in the final hours before his death on the cross. At Corinth Reformed UCC, we have used this Maundy Thursday service for three years now, and because it was so well received, it may become an annual tradition.

Near the beginning of the service, the men who played the roles of Jesus and the disciples entered and took their seats at the front. They were dressed in costume and seated in the traditional order as found in the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci (see RW 48, p. 22). In the box on page 11 you will find a list of our preservice preparations for the service. For a diagram of how we staged the service, see page 15.

[Lights full at the beginning.]


Call to Worship
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The Invitation and Prayer
On the Thursday evening before Jesus’ death he commemorated Passover with his disciples, instituting what we now call the Lord’s Supper. We invite all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and who desire to walk faithfully in obedience to him to share in this service of remembering and proclaiming our Lord. Tonight thirteen men of the congregation will participate in a dramatized retelling of the last supper, so that both in words and in drama we can come closer to an understanding of the disciples’ experiences on the night before Jesus was crucified.

Let us pray.

O God, our loving Father, send your Holy Spirit on us, on this bread and on this cup, that they may become for us the communion of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Receive our words and acts of thanksgiving and consecration to your service and to your praise through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, be all honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

In further preparation for this service, let us stand and confess our sins.

Confession of Sin
Brothers and sisters, God has called us to be children of the light, not of the darkness.

Let us approach the throne of grace that we may receive mercy.

Let us pray.

Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment. Set us free from a past we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed by your grace; and grant us grace to grow more and more into your likeness and image, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness (1 John 1:5, 7)
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. Amen.

“Lead Me to Calvary” TWC 211
“An Upper Room Did Our Lord Prepare” PH 94, TWC 767

[Jesus and the disciples enter down middle aisle, talking to each other as they come in. Use words and events from the life of Christ in this conversation, such as, “I still think we should have given the money to the poor” (Judas). Or, “I’m still thinking about those huge crowds waving palm branches.” Or, “‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.’ Wasn’t that brilliant?” The disciples and Jesus take their sandals off as they get to the front and take places at the table. The disciples light their candles from Jesus’ candle. They continue their discussion and informal comments until all candles are lit. Dim lights during this process. Microphone is on a stand near the basin for Peter and John.]

Preparing for the Service

  • Costumes When we asked people to take roles in the drama, we also asked them to provide their own costumes. You may want to provide a picture, such as the da Vinci painting, to give them an idea of how the costumes should look.
  • Props

lapel microphone (Jesus)
second microphone (to pass among the disciples)
book of matches
light for lectern
two blocks of wood (for loud noise)
Passover matzos (unleavened bread)
candles and candle snuffers
pewter goblets for disciples
5 regular communion trays for congregation
7 bread baskets

  • Characters In addition to the parts of Jesus and the twelve disciples, you will need two ushers and a candle lighter.
  • Rehearsal We held a two-hour rehearsal after the worship service on the previous Sunday. After sharing a brief meal together, we walked through the drama once. Then we put our costumes on and had our dress rehearsal for Thursday’s service.
  • Last-Minute Checklist Before the service on Thursday, we checked to make sure the following were ready and/or in place:

—PA system on, tested

—water in basin

—juice in cups

—communion elements ready

—disciples’ scripts on table, turned to their first page (there should be no rustling of pages during the service, except for those who have parts on more than one page)

The First Reading
“The Time Had Come” John 13:1-10

John: It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

[Jesus acts out the part as disciples get in line and, one by one, come out to the basin. Peter is last.]

Peter: Lord, are you going to wash my feet?

Jesus: You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.

Peter: No, you shall never wash my feet.

Jesus: Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

Peter: Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!

Jesus: A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.

[Peter takes microphone to table and hands it to Judas.]

The Second Reading
“One of You Will Betray Me” Matthew 26:21-25

Jesus: I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.

Disciples: [all except Judas—not unison, but not individually] Surely not I, Lord?

Jesus: The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.

Judas: Surely not I, Rabbi?

Jesus: Yes, it is you.

[Judas snuffs candle and goes out door, pausing after he opens the door to glance at Jesus.]

[Microphone is passed to James, son of Alpheus.]

The Third Reading
“The One Who Serves” Luke 22:24-27

[The words spoken by the disciples in this reading are implied, not stated, in the Scripture text.]

James, Son of Alpheus: I wonder who among us will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Andrew: Surely it will be Peter, James, or John. He takes them with him quite often.

Simon: Yes, but he rebuked James and John for asking if they would sit on his right and left in the kingdom. And he once said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”

James, Son of Zebedee: Quiet, all of you. Jesus has already made it clear which of us will be the greatest.

[Pause, for effect.]

Jesus: The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

[Microphone is passed to Peter.]

The Fourth Reading
“Love One Another” John 13:31-38

Jesus: Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Peter: Lord, where are you going?

Jesus: Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.

Peter: Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.

Jesus: Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

[Microphone is passed to Thomas.]

Hymn: “In the Hour of Trial” RL 247, TH 568

The Fifth Reading
“This Is My Body”

Luke 22:15-20

[The prayer of thanks by Jesus is implied, not stated in the text.]

Jesus: [stands] I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God. [picks up the bread] Father, I thank you that all things come from your hand— yes, even the grain of the earth. This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.

[Passes bread around the table; each “disciple” breaks off a piece and eats it. Five communion servers then take the bread (already broken in pieces in baskets) to the congregation. Organ plays softly. Communion servers return randomly to table. When all are seated, Jesus stands again. All disciples pick up their cups as Jesus picks up chalice.]

Jesus: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

[Jesus drinks from chalice; disciples drink as Jesus does. Five disciples take the communion trays to the congregation and return randomly.]

[Congregation eats and drinks the elements as soon as they receive them. During the distribution, the organ may play or the congregation may sing. Suggested songs include: “Eat This Bread” PsH 312; “Christ, the Life of All the Living” PsH 371; “Just As I Am, Without One Plea” PsH 263, PH 370, RL 467, 468, TH 501, 502, TWC 445; “O Christ, the Lamb of God” PsH 257]

The Sixth Reading
“I Am the Way”

John 14:1-27

Jesus: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

Thomas: Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

Jesus: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

Philip: Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.

Jesus: Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

Thaddeus: But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?

Jesus: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

[Microphone is passed to Bartholomew.]

The Seventh Reading
“You Believe at Last” John 16:25-33

Jesus: Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.

Bartholomew: Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.

Matthew: Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions.

Bartholomew: This makes us believe that you came from God.

Jesus: You believe at last! But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

[Remaining disciples snuff candles and exit, one at a time. During the next hymn, John and Matthew go to lectern area. Bartholomew takes microphone to Judas, seated out of sight in transept.]

Hymn: “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley “ PH 80

[Switch sanctuary lights and organ light off after hymn.]

The Eighth Reading
“Glorify Your Son” John 17:1-7, 12-23

Jesus: Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” PsH 381, PH 97, TWC 225

The Ninth Reading
“Your Will Be Done” Matthew 26:36-50, 59-67

[Matthew at the lectern. Switch light on before reading; off after reading.]

Matthew: Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them,

Jesus: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.

Matthew: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,

Jesus: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Matthew: Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.

Jesus: Could you not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

Matthew: He went away a second time and prayed,

Jesus: My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.

Matthew: When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. Then he returned to the disciples and said to them,

Jesus: Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!

Matthew: While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said,

Judas: [from off stage] Greetings, Rabbi!

Matthew: and kissed him. Jesus replied,

Jesus: Friend, do what you came for.

Matthew: Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus: Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Matthew: Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him.

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” PsH 386, PH 93, R 248, TH 285, TWC 231

The Tenth Reading
“It Is Finished”

John 19:1-16, 25-30

[John reads from the lectern. Switch light on before reading.]

John: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered,

Jesus: You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

John: From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.


Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,

Jesus: Dear woman, here is your son,

John: and to the disciple,

Jesus: Here is your mother.

John: From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said,

Jesus: I am thirsty.

John: A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said,

Jesus: It is finished.

[Jesus places hand on candle snuffer to be ready. John turns off lectern light after these words and says the final line from memory.]

John: With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

[As the word “spirit” is spoken, the Christ candle is snuffed out and a loud noise—two wood blocks clapped together strongly—comes simultaneously from two places in the sanctuary. This is followed by thirty seconds of silence and darkness.]

The Final Reading
“For God So Loved the World” John 3:16-19

[From the lectern.]

John: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [Jesus relights Christ candle.] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Worship Leader: Let us pray the prayer our Savior taught us: Our Father . . .

[Worship leader turns off lectern light. Lights come up just enough to allow for the congregation to exit safely. Everyone should leave in complete silence. No postlude.]

Robert Thompson ( is pastor of Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ, Hickory, North Carolina.


Reformed Worship 50 © December 1998, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.