Matthew Walks Through the Shadows

A Service of Tenebrae

This service of shadows follows Matthew after he abandoned Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. We imagine that Matthew follows the path that Jesus took, speaking with 12 people who each tell him a part of the crucifixion story. As they talk about the events that have taken place, Matthew is reminded of prophecies from Isaiah, from the psalms, and from the words of Jesus himself as he foretold his death.

Staging can be as simple as a table with 13 candles (one of them the Christ candle), a cloth bag and 30 coins for Judas, a small candle snuffer, and two standing microphones—one for Matthew and one to be used, in turn, by the other readers.

For an added visual element, when we performed this Tenebrae in our own church we staged it with tableaux vivantes. During each reading the performers who had not yet read took poses representing the scene being described. One by one the performers left the stage to read their parts. Finally, the stage was empty except for a cross as Matthew read the last section.

For photos, go to:

1. The Shadow of Disappointment

James is remorseful for arguing about who would be the greatest, for falling asleep while Jesus prayed, and for abandoning him at the arrest.

Matthew: Peter? John? Anyone? Hello . . . ?

James: Hello, Matthew.

Matthew: James! Were you there in the Garden of Gethsemane?

James: I was there, Matthew. First we celebrated the Passover together, in the upper room. Remember how we argued about which of us would be the greatest? That’s what we cared about? On the night of the Passover? And then our Master himself washed each of our feet. He washed . . . our feet.

Next Jesus took us to the garden. Peter, John, and I went with him the farthest as he prayed. He was so filled with grief. All he asked was that we stay near him, and that we stay awake.

Matthew: What did he say?

James: He prayed and he prayed. He fell to the ground and begged God, calling him Abba and Father, and saying, “Don’t make me drink from this cup! Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He was expecting something terrible to happen.

Three times he went away to pray. Each time, he asked us to stay awake for him. Each time he came back and found us sleeping. We didn’t know what to say to him when he woke us up again, and then again. Finally he said, “That’s enough! The time has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the control of sinful men. Stand up! Here comes the man who is handing me over to them.”

Matthew: Didn’t he tell us beforehand? Didn’t he say that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law?

James: A crowd of men with swords and clubs took him. And I abandoned him.

Matthew: We all abandoned him. Just like he said, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” He knew we would disappoint him. Where is he now?

James: The crowd left the garden and headed toward Jerusalem. That way.

[James extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


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

“Shadows Lengthen into Night” (st. 1-4) LUYH 158

2. The Shadow of Betrayal

Judas has begun to realize what he has done. He is nervous and jittery, jangling a cloth sack of coins. He protests his innocence, but guilt is overtaking him.

Matthew: Judas. Were you there when the crowd came and took Jesus?

Judas: Me? I am innocent! I thought they were only going to arrest him. I couldn’t know what they really had in mind. He had to be stopped so things could be like they were before. You heard the things he said! You saw him in the temple! He threw out all the buyers and the sellers. He turned over the tables of the money changers. He called out the words of Isaiah: “‘My temple will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are changing it into a ‘den of robbers!’”

Foreigners are supposed to bring money to the temple! Didn’t Isaiah also say that people would bring us the wealth of the nations? They can’t pay their temple tax with foreign coins, so we exchange our money for theirs. Yes, we may charge something more than we should, but he can’t call us robbers! Don’t look at me that way, tax-collector! You cheated your own people and gave money to the Romans! This is different!

And then a woman wasted a year’s wages by pouring perfume on him. Listen, Matthew. He didn’t correct her. He didn’t think about selling that precious nard that could have been sold for three hundred pieces of silver! Three hundred! I only took one tenth of that amount!

Matthew: One tenth? You took thirty pieces of silver? For what?

Judas: I took money to tell the chief priests where to find Jesus. They were only going to arrest him. I’ll take the money back to them. I have to change what I’ve done. Matthew, what have I done?

Matthew: You have done what he said you were going to do. When he dipped bread with you he said that you would betray him. He knew. Tell me, Judas, where did they take him?

Judas: They took him to the house of Caiaphas the High Priest. Matthew, will things be like they were before? I’ll bring them back the money. They’ll have to take it back.

[Judas extinguishes a candle and walks out. As he leaves he throws down the sack with the 30 coins inside.]


“No Weight of Gold or Silver” (st. 1) PsH 374

“Shadows Lengthen into Night” (st. 5-6) LUYH 158

3. The Shadow of Denial

An unnamed servant girl boasts vindictively to Matthew about what happened to Jesus at the house of Caiaphas.

Matthew: Hello? Miss? Were you there when Jesus was brought here to the house of Caiaphas?

Servant girl: Are you another one of those men from Galilee?

Matthew: I am.

Servant girl: If you’re looking for the man who tried to tell everybody he was the Messiah, he was here. I saw him. He thought he was a teacher. Well, Caiaphas taught him a few things.

I was outside in the courtyard. I saw one of you men of Galilee—one of his followers. I could tell. He was sitting outside here, and I came right up to him and said, “You were with Jesus, that man from Galilee.”

He told everybody that it wasn’t true. Then another one of the girls saw him and said the same thing I did, that he was there with Jesus of Nazareth. So he says, “I swear to God, I don’t know the man!”

Next a group of us went up to him. We said we could tell by his accent that he was from Galilee. So he swears again that he doesn’t know the man. Then a rooster crowed and he went outside and started crying for some reason. What does that say about you men from Galilee?

Matthew: Three times? The man denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed?

Servant girl: That’s right. Next Jesus came out. I knew he was guilty because they spit in his face. They blindfolded him. They hit him with their fists and they said, “Show us that you are a prophet, Messiah! Tell us who hit you!” [The servant girl claps her hands to indicate the sound of the hitting.] So there’s your prophet! Tell me, man of Galilee, what did he prophesy?

Matthew: He prophesied to his friend. Jesus said, “The truth is, tonight you will say you don’t know me. You will deny me three times before the rooster crows.” Please, Miss, tell me where to find him.

Servant girl: [In a subdued voice.] Sir. . . . They took him to Pilate, the governor.

[The servant girl extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” (st. 1-2) LUYH 172, PH 93, PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262

“Shadows Lengthen into Night” (st. 7) LUYH 158

4. The Shadow of Injustice

Barabbas is in dumbfounded shock about the fate that he has escaped.

Matthew: Hello? Is anyone here?

Barabbas: There is no one here in Pilate’s courtyard but me. The crowd left some time ago.

Matthew: Were you here when they put Jesus on trial?

Barabbas: I was here. The crowd wanted a man to die. They wanted to see a crucifixion.

Matthew: Crucifixion? Death . . . on a cross?

Barabbas: That was my sentence. And that’s what I was expecting when the guards pulled me out of jail at night. They said Pilate had called for me by name. He wanted me, Barabbas.

An angry mob was shouting for a death. I thought it would be mine. But instead they wanted to kill a man called Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate could find no reason to kill him. He hadn’t broken any law. So he gave them a choice. They could kill me—a criminal—or kill him, an innocent man. They chose to kill the innocent for the guilty.

Matthew: How could a Roman governor allow that to happen?

Barabbas: Pilate called for water and washed his hands of the decision.

Matthew: The prophet Isaiah must have seen this night when he wrote, “Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.”

Barabbas: Are you one of his followers? Can you tell me how I can live now that I know that he died in my place? Can you tell me that?

Matthew: I don’t know what to say. Can you tell me where they took Jesus from here?

Barabbas: Pilate gave him to his soldiers. They took him to the Praetorium. It will not go well for him there.

[Barabbas extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


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

5. The Shadow of Mockery

Martha, sister of Lazarus, describes how the soldiers mocked and beat Jesus. Her words remind Matthew of prophecies from Isaiah.

Matthew: Martha . . . Martha . . . were you there when they took Jesus from Pilate’s house?

Martha: Yes. I was there, Matthew. Pilate’s soldiers mocked him for a king. They put a royal robe on him, but there was no majesty in him, not on this night.

Matthew: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Martha: They despised him and humiliated him. They made a crown for him out of thorns and forced it onto his head. They gave him a heavy stick for a scepter. The soldiers bowed down to him, mocking him and calling him a king. They took the stick and hit him over the head again . . . and again.

Matthew: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”

Martha: I couldn’t bear to watch. I had to turn away.

Matthew: “Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

Martha: How could God let this happen? Why must he suffer like this? So much pain! So many wounds! He deserves none of it!

Matthew: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Martha: Did Jesus know this was going to happen?

Matthew: I believe he knows everything that was written about him in the scroll of Isaiah. Martha, please tell me where to find him.

Martha: They led him this way. A path called “the Way of Suffering.” It was awful, Matthew. I am terrified for him.

[Martha extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“No Weight of Gold or Silver” (st. 2-3) PsH 374

“What Grace Is This” (st. 1) LUYH 163

6. The Shadow of Suffering

Simon of Cyrene describes the walk of Jesus and carrying the cross.

Matthew: Sir? Can you tell me what happened here?

Simon: Are you looking for the man from Galilee?

Matthew: Yes! Were you there when he walked this road?

Simon: I was walking to Jerusalem from out in the country. I am from Cyrene. My name is Simon. I had no idea of what was going on in the city. I saw a large crowd of people. First there were soldiers pushing and beating a man who was carrying a cross. It was another crucifixion. This road of broken stones is what the Romans call the Via Dolorosa. This is the Way of Suffering.

The man fell to the ground. He couldn’t get up. He was exhausted and hurt. They kicked him and cursed him, but it did no good. He had nothing left. Then the soldiers saw me. They pulled me forward and told me to take up the cross. I had to carry it so they could lead that man to his death.

The road was lined with people. Some were angry and mocked him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah.”

Matthew: It was written in the psalms, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.”

Simon: There were also women in the crowd who cried for him. But he looked right at them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”

They offered him wine mixed with gall, but after one taste he wouldn’t drink any more. Why would he refuse to drink it? The wine dulls the brain, and the gall dulls the pain. Most condemned men will drink gulp after gulp—a whole pitcher if they can. They will seek any relief they can get . . . but it is never enough when the iron nails puncture the human flesh. Who was this man? What did he do that was so wrong?

Matthew: He did nothing wrong. Please tell me where they took him.

Simon: They took him to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. That’s where it happens.

[Simon extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“Via Dolorosa” (st. 1-3) –Sandi Patty

“What Grace Is This” (st. 2) LUYH 163

7. The Shadow of Anointing

Mary, sister of Lazarus, recalls anointing Jesus in her home, and then seeing him on the cross.

Matthew: Mary, please tell me, were you there?

Mary: Matthew? Yes, I was there. I was there when Jesus visited our home in Bethany. My sister Martha was busy with all the preparations for the meal, but I wanted nothing more than to sit at his feet and listen to him. He did not refuse me. Do you remember?

Matthew: Yes, I was there with him that day.

Mary: And I was there when he wept for the death of my brother Lazarus. I was there when he called my brother out of the grave.

Matthew: He said to us, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” We saw on that day that he had the power to raise the dead.

Mary: And I was there just days ago when Jesus reclined at the table with my brother, Lazarus. I broke open a jar of pure nard. I poured it on his head, and watched it flow to his feet. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. I let down my hair to dry his feet. I loved him so. I believed in him. I would have given him anything: the price of the perfume . . . the shame of uncovering my head . . . my very life.

Matthew: Yes. I was there with you, Mary. Some of us thought the perfume was wasted. But he told us you were doing a good thing . . . you were busy with preparations for his burial. He knew and he understood what we did not.

Mary: And I was there when they nailed him to the cross. It was not perfume that flowed from his wounded head to his helpless feet. It was blood. It was death. It was his life.

Matthew: You were here at the cross?

Mary: Yes. And I will be there at his tomb. I am going with my sister Martha to gather together spices to put with his body. Not yet. First we will honor the Sabbath. But as soon as the Sabbath is over, when the sun is just rising, I will once again prepare his body for burial. John is here also. He can tell you more.

[Mary extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (st. 1-2) LUYH 175, PH 100/101, PsH 384, TH 252, WR 261

“What Grace Is This” (st. 3) LUYH 163

8. The Shadow of Atonement

John is fearful of what may happen next as he tells Matthew of some of Jesus’s words from the cross.

Matthew: John? Were you here on Calvary when they nailed him to the cross?

John: I was here, Matthew. I listened as he spoke to us after he was lifted up. As long as he lived, we were his disciples. What are we now if he is dead?

Matthew: What did he teach at the end? What were his dying words?

John: He taught forgiveness. He taught forgiveness while he lived, and he taught forgiveness as he died.

Matthew: Please tell me, John.

John: When they lifted him up onto the cross he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

He was crucified with two criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. One of the two insulted him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal asked him, “Don’t you fear God? We are getting what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then that dying criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Matthew: Why would he ask that? He could see that the Master was dying.

John: Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Matthew: Yes. Jesus will be in paradise. He is no longer here with us.

John: Jesus saw his mother and said to her, “Woman, here is your son.” And then he looked at me and said, “Here is your mother.” I must go with her now. I have to take Mary away. We must hide her and the other women of Galilee in case the leaders of the synagogue come after us next. You must hide, too, Matthew. We will meet later in the upper room. They might not find us there.

Here is my mother, Salome. She was also here.

[John extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” (st. 1, 3) LUYH 111, PH 83, PsH 364, TH 155, WR 244

“What Grace Is This” (st. 4) LUYH 163

9. The Shadow of Forsakenness

Salome, the mother of James and John, recalls asking Jesus to give her sons a place of honor in the coming kingdom and tells of Jesus’ last words.

Matthew: Hello, Salome, were you here at the cross when he suffered?

Salome: I was here with him. I have followed Jesus ever since that day in Galilee when he called my sons James and John to be his disciples. Do you know, I once asked Jesus to give my two sons places of honor: one to be at his right hand and the other to his left? Shall I tell you, now, who I saw to his right and to his left? Dying men. Criminals punished for their deeds. And he in the middle of them.

Matthew: We thought he would be the Messiah.

Salome: And instead, I heard him cry out: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”

Matthew: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And now we are left as abandoned and as forsaken as he was.

Salome: He offered us the bread of life. He offered us living water. And at the end he had nothing to give. He was helpless and alone. He said to the soldiers, “I am thirsty.” They gave him vinegar.

Matthew: I remember what the psalmist wrote, “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless. I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

Salome: He said one more thing. He said, “It is finished.”

Matthew: What is finished?

Salome: You knew him well. He spoke to you in secret. I hoped that you could tell me. As of this night, Matthew, what is finished?

[Salome extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (st. 1) LUYH 168, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284

10. The Shadow of Crucifixion

Peter tells of Jesus’ final words and his death. He is angry and afraid.

Matthew: Peter. Were you here when Jesus died?

Peter: I was here. I abandoned him in the garden. I denied him three times before the morning came, just as he said. I found him again here at the cross. I was here.

Matthew: What did you see?

Peter: I saw him on the cross. I saw him suffering. I saw him dying. There was an earthquake. At about noon the sun stopped shining for three hours. Heaven and earth protested. Darkness swallowed up the light. Death claimed its victory. At the very end, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And then he breathed his last.

Matthew: He’s dead?

Peter: It’s over, Matthew. He told us beforehand. He said we had to go to Jerusalem for everything written to be fulfilled. They would mock him, insult him, and spit on him; they would flog him and kill him. Didn’t he tell us this would happen? Didn’t we warn him not to come?

Matthew: He told us so many things, Peter. Wasn’t there more for us to remember?

Peter: What? More words from Isaiah, maybe? Didn’t Isaiah prophesy: “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.”

Look around this mountain called Calvary, Matthew. Has a fabric been torn? Is death swallowed up? Are tears wiped away? No. It’s over. We must get away from here while we can.

[Peter extinguishes the Christ candle and walks out.]


“Were You There?” (st. 1) LUYH 166, PH 102, PsH 377, TH 260, WR 283

11. The Shadow of Death

The centurion describes the death of Jesus. Matthew is reminded again of prophecies that are being fulfilled.

Matthew: Excuse me, centurion, sir, were you here at the crucifixion?

Centurion: I saw the execution. Whenever we put a criminal to death, we list his crimes and post them for all to see as a warning. On his cross we posted the notice “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He was innocent of any other crime.

Matthew: Jesus was born in the line of our King David.

Centurion: I saw my men throwing dice for his clothes.

Matthew: We have a psalm that predicted this would happen: “All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

Centurion: I saw the darkness, and I trembled when the earth shook. I saw him die, and in my fear I called out, “Surely he was the Son of God!” But I was too late to realize it. He was dead.

Matthew: Where is he now?

Centurion: Some men went to Pilate to ask for the body so they could bury it. Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead. But he was. We were going to break his legs to end the crucifixion, but there was no need. Instead we pierced his side with a spear. Blood and water burst out of him. I was here, I saw.

Matthew: One of our scriptures tells that not one of his bones will be broken. Another tells that they will look on the one they have pierced.

Centurion: You followed him as far as you could. But he’s dead now.

Matthew: And where is his body?

Centurion: Two men took him to a garden near here, and laid that dead body in a tomb. They may still be there now.

[The centurion extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“Calvary” (st. 1) LUYH 171, PH 96, SNC 140

“What Grace Is This” (st. 5, 6) LUYH 163

12. The Shadow of Burial

Joseph of Arimathea regrets his silence while the injustice took place. He and Matthew together recall prophecies from Isaiah.

Matthew: Sir, is this the place where they laid Jesus of Nazareth in his tomb?

Joseph: Yes, here in this garden. I am Joseph, from Arimathea. I, too, was a follower of Jesus, but I followed him in secret, as did my friend Nicodemus. I was a member of the council. I tell you, I did not approve of what has happened here. He did not open his mouth to defend himself, and in my silence I allowed the injustice to happen.

Matthew: So his trial was much like what was written by the prophet Isaiah: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested?”

Joseph: We were afraid to protest. We were afraid of the other leaders, of being thrown out of the temple. Our silence will be forever on our conscience.

Matthew: Can you tell me where he now lies?

Joseph: We took his body down from the cross and wrapped it in strips of linen with seventy pounds of myrrh and aloes and placed it in a new tomb, only recently cut in the rock. He died with the lowest of men, but he is buried in a wealthy man’s tomb. That is also written in Isaiah.

Matthew: Yes. “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

Joseph: The women who followed Jesus from Galilee also followed us to the tomb. They will come back with more spices when the Sabbath is over. But it will do them no good. A large stone covers the entrance to the tomb. It will not be moved.

[Joseph extinguishes a candle and walks out.]


“Were You There?” (st. 3) LUYH 166, PH 102, PsH 377, TH 260, WR 283

13. The Shadow of Despair

Matthew has now heard all that has happened, and loses hope. Even so, his final words to the listeners call to mind the beginning of the resurrection story: “In the early morning on the first day of the week. . . .”

Matthew: Women of Galilee! Go to your homes! Why would you come back here as soon as the Sabbath is over? Our Master is dead, the tomb is sealed, and a Roman guard is keeping watch over it! What would you ever hope to find in this God-forsaken place if you do come back in the early morning on the first day of the week?

[Matthew extinguishes the last candle and walks out. Congregation leaves in silence.]

Bob Rienstra served for many years as a missionary in Costa Rica with Christian Reformed World Missions. He is now a freelance writer, a stay-at-home grandfather, and a member of Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Reformed Worship 114 © December 2014, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.