The Three Days

A Service of Communion, Reflection, and Waiting

Editor’s Note: While some churches have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter Vigil services, others find themselves holding one service in which to encapsulate the drama and depth of all that occurred in those three days. It is for that second group of churches that this service is designed. Using Scripture, music, poetry, and art, this service takes the worshiper on a three-day journey from Maundy Thursday to the darkness of the Easter Vigil.

If your church celebrates each of these days, it is possible to use this resource as the backdrop of your services and, by adding additional elements such as a meditation, create three separate yet cohesive services. If you do that and are willing to share your services with the wider Reformed Worship community, please email them to us at —JB

Suggested Artwork

This service was accompanied by paintings from artist Ovide Bighetty. Bighetty is a First Nations artist who works mainly in acrylics on many different materials, including birchbark, wood, hide, and rock. These paintings are reprinted by permission of the Indian Metis Christian Fellowship, which commissioned them. Reproduction and exhibition rights belong with IMCF. Prints of these paintings are available from IMCF (email Proceeds support the cost of the commissions, exhibitions, and fundraising for the ministry.




Visuals: Place seven lit purple candles, plus one lit white Christ candle, at the front of the sanctuary. Extinguish/remove candles as instructed in the service plan that follows.


Song: “Lift High the Cross” (st. 1, 4, 5) LUYH 264, PH 371, PsH 373, TH 263, WR 287

Opening Prayer
It’s a dark day to be gathered here, Jesus;
it’s a barren place, this—filled with shadows and death.
But we are here because we need to be here;
the shadows of this day are our shadows, the death is our death.
Now, as we worship, your cross becomes for us a mirror,
reflecting back to us our own brokenness, sinfulness, and darkness.
And as we reflect on your love-inspired sacrifice,
we discover an open doorway to life.
We gather at the foot of your cross
because we desperately need to be here.

—Written by John van de Laar, © Sacredise 2008 ( (All works by John van de Laar in this article may be used and copied freely if the copyright notice is included on all copies.)

God’s Greeting

Song: “What Wondrous Love Is This” (st. 1, 2) LUYH 164, PH 85, PsH 379, TH 261, WR 257

The Last Supper

Project painting 1: “The Last Supper” (see suggested artwork above)

Scripture: Matthew 26:17-30. [We suggest treating this passage as a readers’ theater, with individuals reading the parts of Jesus and Judas, a small group of people reading the parts spoken by the disciples, and a narrator reading the rest.]

Praise and Confession
It seems impossible that anyone would give what you did
to save men and women like us;
But you gave yourself freely for our sakes.
It seems unimaginable that anyone could love the way you did,
including outcasts, rebels, and even your persecutors, and refuse to strike back;
But you loved so much that you laid down your life for our sakes.
It seems inconceivable that anyone would offer the forgiveness that you did
even as nails pierced your flesh, and the cross was stained with your blood;
But you did not hold our sin against us,
and took on yourself the suffering that should have been ours.
Forgive us that we have allowed greed and violence,
pride and deceit, bitterness and coldness to have a place in our hearts;
And fill us again with your immeasurable grace, your inexhaustible love,
and your unconquerable life, that we may be changed,
and may express our love and devotion through lives of worship. Amen.

—John van de Laar, © Sacredise 2008

People of God, let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Dying he destroyed death.
Rising he restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.

Prayer of Consecration
In your love and mercy, Holy Father, give us your Spirit so that through these gifts of bread and wine we may be united more fully with Christ and with each other. Lift our hearts so that in all the troubles and sorrows of this life we may continue in hope for the new life in your eternal kingdom. This we pray in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

—John van de Laar, © Sacredise 2008

[The people gather in a large circle around the cross—serving elders begin the distribution at the top of the circle with the words, “The body of Christ broken for you,” “The blood of Christ poured out for you.” New circles form until all are served.]

“Behold the Lamb” LUYH 840
“Lord, Have Mercy” LUYH 639
“The Power of the Cross” LUYH 177

The Service of Shadows

Part 1

The Shadow of the Agony of Spirit

Project painting 2: “Starting the Journey”

Scripture: Matthew 26:36-46

Poem: “Scene: Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane” by Henry J. Baron (Taken from Talking with God: Prayers, Meditations & Conversations for God-seekers, by Henry J. Baron.) [use two readers—one reading the normal text, one reading the italics]

You made me human, Father, yet more than human:
I know what lies ahead.
I feel their spittle burn on my cheeks.
I see the contempt in their eyes.
I hear the murderous screams of the mobs in my ears.
And my human self is filled with dread.

What have I done to deserve what’s coming now?
I can’t face it . . . it is too much!

You asked me to humble myself—well, I’ve done that.
I had no place to call my own.
I left my father and my mother.
I’ve been shunned and scorned.
I’ve been accused of lawbreaking and blasphemy.
Isn’t that enough?

Why now the humiliation of a rigged trial?
Why the beatings and the mockery?
Why the thorns and the nails piercing my skin?
Why this horrible subjection to human cruelty?

Am I not your beloved son?

Why must there be this human sacrifice for sin?
Why all this bloodshed?
Why give the enemy such cause to celebrate?
Why not use your power to save by word instead of deed?
Why kill your own son?
Please, Father, take this cup from me!

You will be pierced for their transgression.
You will be crushed for their iniquities.
Your punishment will bring them peace.
Your wounds will make them whole.

Is that not your will, my Son?

Your will be done.
But Father, what makes this all so unbearable is the treachery.
Even now I sense that they’re gathering—
the ruffians with clubs and swords,
with cowardly spirits and evil souls.
They’re coming, Father, to arrest me like a thief.
The shame of that is bad enough—
but I can’t face being stabbed in the back by friends.
We’ve been together for three years.
We’ve fished and prayed together.
Why must they turn on me?
What have I done to them?
Why must this be part of it?
And if Judas must be Judas, why cannot Peter be the Rock?
Peter was so special, so committed, so loyal.
Why Peter too?

I’m not asking now that you spare me from death
but what is worse than death—betrayal by those I love.
For I feel the nail of betrayal pierce my heart.
Spare me from that, I pray.

You were sent to seek and to save what was lost.
Or will you not be their Savior?

Your will be done.

Father, I know what awaits me.
I know that this is what I was born for, what I left home for.
But it’s so close now, Father—and I’m so afraid.
I don’t feel ready.
I can’t face this all alone.
My enemies are coming; my friends lie sleeping.
Soon they will all desert me.
Is there none who will stand by me?
Oh, Father, do not forsake me, for the agony of aloneness is
worse than death.
Save me from that hell, I pray.

You will take up their infirmities.
You will carry their sorrows.
Only then will you save them from the pit.
The way of suffering, darkness, and death lies ahead.
You must walk it alone, all alone.
But I will be waiting for you, Son.
I will be waiting.

Your will be done.
And, now, the hour has come. . . .

Song: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” (st. 1) LUYH 161, PH 97, PsH 381, WR 272

[1st candle extinguished]

Part 2

The Shadow of Arrest

Project painting 3: “Betrayal”

Scripture: Matthew 26:47-50

Project painting 4: “False Witness”

Scripture: Matthew 26:57-64

Poem: “What’s in a Name?” by Nikki Grimes (Taken from At Jerusalem’s Gate, Poems of Easter, © 2005 Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers)

That night when Christ in agony
knelt praying in Gethsemane
before his march to Calvary
was Judas on his mind?

Was Judas a mere innocent?
A man earmarked for infamy?
Did God choose him for villainy
or did he choose himself?

His name portended prominence:
“Praised Man” his mother baptized him.
But names are what we make of them,
“Betrayer” the badge he earned.

Yet, did Christ in his agony
plead for the soul of one whom he’d
once prayed with in Gethsemane?
Perhaps we’ll never know.

Song: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” (st. 2)

[2nd candle extinguished]

Part 3

The Shadow of Denial

Project painting 5: “Peter’s Failure”

Scripture: Matthew 26:69-75 [We suggest treating this passage as a readers’ theater, with individuals reading the parts of the girl and Peter, and a narrator reading the rest.]

Poem: “Judas, Peter” by Luci Shaw (Taken from A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation, Regent College Publishing, 1997.)

because we are all
betrayers, taking
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves

but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me?

“Bitter Was the Night” (st. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6) SNT 101
“Were You There” (st. 1) LUYH 166, PH 102, PsH 377, TH 261, WR 283

[3rd candle extinguished]


Part 4

The Shadow of Accusation

Project painting 6: “Injustice for the Just”

Scripture: Matthew 27:11-14, 20-29

Poem: “The Net” by Nikki Grimes (Taken from At Jerusalem’s Gate, Poems of Easter, © 2005 Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers)

I ascend the judgment bench,
wrinkle my nose at the vile stench
of political plot born of jealousy,
and declare, “I will set this Jesus free
for I find no cause against him.”
The priests, enraged, stir up the crowd,
goad them to protest aloud.
And so, the tug of war begins.
My undernourished conscience
is certain of his innocence,
so I propose a reprimand
but fail to meet the crowd’s demand.
“This braggart calls himself a king,
too proud to kiss the emperor’s ring.
Is that not a crime in Roman eyes?”
I scan the crowd for Caesar’s spies
then ask, “Are you the King of the Jews?
Speak up, man! Why do you refuse?
You do not seem to understand:
Your heart’s beat ends at my command.”
Scribes and elders lift the cry,
“Free Barabbas! This man crucify!
Kill him who claims to be God’s son.”
Alarmed, I ask, “Are you the One?”
(My good wife’s words come back to me.)
The mob yells, “Do not set him free!”
Frantic, I flog him according to law.
“Look! Here! I have beaten him raw.
Surely your charges are now satisfied.”
But the mob shouts, “Let him be crucified!”
Sighing, I wash my hands in their sight.
“His blood be on you this day turned night,
for I find no cause against him.”

Song: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (st. 1, 2) LUYH 172, PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262

[4th candle extinguished]

Part 5

The Shadow of Humiliation

Project painting 7: “Crowned for Our Glory”

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-29

Project painting 8: “Power Over Death”

Scripture: Matthew 27:30-31

Poem: “Criminal” by John Thomas Carlisle (Taken from Looking for Jesus, Poems by Thomas John Carlisle, © 1993 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing)

Jesus wasn’t in jail long.
Abhorrence of his crime
demanded as instant a death
as courts and schedules
could afford. The Lord of life
had violated treasured
values and upset
the neverchangers
of temple and government.
They could not forgive him
what they knew they thought he did.

Song: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” LUYH 168, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284

[5th candle extinguished]

Part 6

The Shadow of Crucifixion

Project painting 9: “The Weight of Our Sins”

Scripture: Matthew 27:32-37

Project painting 10: “The Promise of Heaven”

Scripture: Luke 23:39-43

Poem: “Friday” by Ann Weems (© 1993 Ann Weems. Taken from Kneeling in Jerusalem, published by Westminster/John Knox Press.)

The sky peels back to purple
and thunder slaps the thighs of heaven,
and all the tears of those who grieve
fly up to clouds are released
and drench the earth.
The ones who see and hear
that all is lost.
The only one named Savior
upon a cross.
The ones who believed and loved
hudcxdled together
All night long
the angels weep.

Project painting 11: “Creating a New Family”

Scripture: John 19:25-27 [We suggest treating this passage as a readers’ theater, with one individual reading the part of Jesus and another acting as the narrator.]

Song: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

[6th candle extinguished]

Part 7

The Shadow of Death

Project painting 12: “By His Stripes We Are Healed”

Scripture: John 19:28-37

Poem: “Good Friday” by Christina Rosetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

“O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” (st. 1, 2, 4) LUYH 111, PH 83, PsH 364, TH 155, WR 244
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” LUYH 457

[7th candle extinguished]

Part 8

The Shadow of Burial

Project painting 13: “It Is Finished”

Scripture: Matthew 27:57-60

Song: [Psalm 22 recording from The Psalm Project played here. Recording available at Sheet music available at]

[The Christ candle is removed]


[Relight one candle]

Part 9

The Shadow of Waiting

Project painting 14: “The Women Wait”

Scripture: Matthew 27:62-64

Project painting 15: “Guarding the Promise of Resurrection”

Scripture: Matthew 27:65-66

Poem: “When Finest Aspirations Fail” from Stages on the Way, Iona Community

When finest aspirations fail
and dreams become dismay,
and all the hopes tomorrow held
lie felled by yesterday,
what can we do, where do we turn,
what can we say?

We hurt for what has happened
and we fear for what’s to come;
and easy consolation leaves us
negative and numb,
and wondering whether deeper depths
are yet to plumb.

Shall they control our destiny
who, deaf to our demands,
are ruled by other values
and defer to their commands?
And are our futures safe
in these unwanted hands?

Oh, Christ, you lost control,
or so it seems, when to a tree
they nailed you and regaled you
and refused to set you free;
and all because you showed
how life was meant to be.

Then must our hopes, like you,
be broken down beyond repair;
must we be lost and powerless,
befriended by despair,
in order somehow to be saved
and sense God’s care?

And shall our hopes, like you,
arise from where they ceased to be;
and shall the spirit that was crushed
be transformed and set free?
If that’s God’s will, then we await
what’s yet to be.

Silent Meditation

Song: “My Jesus, I Love Thee” LUYH 366, PsH 557, TH 648, WR 268

May Jesus Christ, who for our sakes became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, keep you and strengthen you. Amen.

The people leave in silence.

Wendy de Jong is involved in worship planning and creating projection backgrounds and serves on the worship committee and visual arts committee of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Reformed Worship 110 © December 2013, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.