The Way of the Cross

A Tenebrae Service
The Way of the Cross is a Tenebrae service that uses music, dramatic readings, and PowerPoint slides. It is based on the Stations of the Cross, a devotional practice developed in the Middle Ages by the Franciscans as a way of allowing people who could not travel to the Holy Land to walk where Christ walked on the day of his passion. By meditating on the different stations, we are viewing the crucifixion not only as a historical recounting, but also as an event that still affects our world, our society, our neighbors, and ourselves. In doing so, we can witness God’s passionate love for us revealed by the willingness of Jesus to die for us to be reconciled to God.

In our worship, we are invited to challenge ourselves to follow Jesus’ example of selfless love in our daily lives and to remind ourselves that the path of discipleship is indeed the Way of the Cross.

The Participants

The service is structured around the reflections of three persons journeying with Christ on the road to Calvary. The service is scripted for five people: a leader, the voice of Christ, and three voices representing the world, the local community, and our individual selves. Interspersed throughout are prayers that could be spoken by the congregation, the person representing the individual or by a sixth leader.

The Physical Space

The focus of the physical space is on the cross and candles up front. There should be nine candles or votives plus a larger Christ candle that remains lit and is carried out at the end of the service. A person dressed in black extinguishes each candle at the appropriate time, calling as little attention to themself as possible. Depending on the lighting in your worship space, you may want to start with all the lights on and dim them slightly each time a candle is snuffed out until the very end, when all is dark as the Christ candle is taken out (a few lights could then be turned back on so people can safely exit). If you include projected images throughout the service, they will cast some light, so it may be wise to meet with your technical crew once at the same time of day as your service to consider the lighting, especially if your space has windows.

To keep the focus on the cross and candles, the speakers in our service were located on the balcony, but stage directions are included in case they are up front. Depending on the location of your organ or piano, musicians might sing from a balcony, the back of the worship space, or on one side of the stage.

Musical Selections

This service includes suggestions for a choir or a soloist. If lights will be dimmed, make sure the singers either have another light source or have the songs memorized. This service does not include congregational singing, but the choral or vocal pieces could easily be exchanged for congregational songs—but keep your lighting decisions in mind if the congregation will be using printed bulletins or hymnals rather than projected lyrics.

Communal Reflection and Projected Images

A few weeks before the service, various church groups, such as youth group, adult bible study, and small groups, reflected on one of the passages used in this service and chose public domain images related to their insights. These images were then used as the projected visual accompaniment to this service. You could also invite individuals to create artistic reflections on each passage and photograph the creations to include in the service.


The Way of the Cross

Call to Worship and Opening Prayer

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.

(Isaiah 53:4–6)

Merciful Father, whether we know it or not,

we bear the imprint of the cross.

We find life’s journey hard,

we know the mystery of death, and we recoil from it.

Tonight, help us to face life’s dark side

in ourselves and in our world.

Open our hearts to the realization of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice,

which showed your great love for all humankind.

Through the way of the cross, help us find you tonight.

Abba, Father, walk with us.

The Journey Begins

Leader: Hours before his crucifixion, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus surrendered. Not to the Roman soldiers. Not to his betrayer. Not even to his own death. Rather, he surrendered to his Father’s will. He said:

Christ: “Abba, Father, dear father, my father . . . For you all things are possible. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

(Matthew 26:39 adapt.)

Leader: At one time or another, all of us will be asked to surrender our will to God’s. It could be the cup of betrayal, persecution, or disease, loss of love, or sacrificing personal gain for the greater good. Surrender is not easy. Christ in his anguish sweated great drops of blood. But in the end:

Christ: “Not my will . . .”

Leader: Do we have the courage to follow our Savior’s lead?

Christ: “Your will be done.”

(Matthew 26:42)

[As the music starts the first candle is extinguished.]

Choral Anthem: “Thy Will Be Done” Courtney


First Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death

Leader: As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. . . . Pilate [asked the crowd], . . . “What do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” . . . After flogging Jesus, [Pilate] handed him over to be crucified.

(Mark 15:1, 12–15, NRSV)

World: It is a haunting scene. Why doesn’t Jesus try to defend himself? He is tried and convicted of a crime he did not commit. He just stands there, an innocent man, and takes the blame for the sins of the very people who are condemning him.

Community: Justice—dear, blind Madame Justice, where are you? Segregation. Condemnation. Extermination.

Leader: Jesus said, “Love one another.”

Community: How pathetic are we not to see, not to hear, not to treat each other with compassion, with mercy . . .

Leader: “Love one another.”

Individual: I close my eyes. I’m afraid to look inside, afraid I may see the very things I condemn in others staring back at me.

Choral Music: “Father, Forgive Us” Martin and Courtney


O Lord Jesus, so many times we see you hungry, sick, and helpless,

and we do not reach out to you.

We blindly turn our backs on the injustices of the world

only to focus on ourselves.

Haunt us with your love

so we can be love to your world.


[The second candle is extinguished.]


Second Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death

Leader: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” . . . Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha).

(Matt: 16:24, John 19:17, NLT)

World: Humanity is burdened with many crosses: war, hunger, and famine, greed and poverty, sickness and death. We can’t escape them. It gets hard to watch the news.

Community: I watch my neighbors bear their crosses. Some are mourning; some are struggling to survive financially; some are living in fear and loneliness. I pray about them every day. Is there more to be done?

Leader: Jesus said; “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Individual: The cross? Surely you can’t mean . . . No, not that cross. Please! [long pause] Abba . . . please!

Leader: Jesus went out carrying his cross. He knows what it is to carry a heavy burden. He showed us how—not out of guilt or obligation, but out of love.

Vocal Solo: “Take Up Thy Cross” Everest, LUYH 326, GtG 718, SSS 605


Lord Jesus, you embraced your cross to redeem the world.

Help us to accept the crosses in our lives:

the hardships, losses, struggles, disappointments, and pain.

Help us to see these crosses not as tiresome burdens,

but as ways of surrendering to you:

surrendering to your love,

surrendering to the peace of acceptance

that lies in every cross that comes our way.


[The third candle is extinguished.]


Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

Leader: As they led [Jesus] away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

(Luke 23:26, NRSV)

World: Simon of Cyrene. A perfect stranger in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was it the right place at the right time? He is grabbed and forced to take the cross. Is he reluctant? Or does he step forward, ever so slightly, at God’s nudging?

Community: Where and when are those God-touched moments in our lives? Do we resist the nudges to open ourselves to the needs of others?

Individual: I don’t like to make myself vulnerable.

Leader: Jesus calls us to bear one another’s burdens, to let each other in. We are the body of Christ.

Organ Instrumental: “Out of the Depths I Cry to You” Drieshner, arr. of Martin Luther’s AUS TIEFER NOT


Thank you, God, for strangers in our midst

who often, like angels, unwittingly show us what to do

and how to do it.

Thank you, Abba, for the nudges

that open us up to your redeeming love.


[The fourth candle is extinguished.]


Fourth Station: Jesus Speaks to the Women

Leader: A large number of people followed [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

(Luke 23:27–28)

World: Ours is a world filled with death and destruction: wars and earthquakes, car bombs and terrorists, genocide and starvation. Have we lost the ability to comprehend and feel compassion in the face of loss? Are our tears sufficient? We’ve seen the pictures— thousands of tearless eyes, drained by grief. So we cry in their stead.

Community: The women following Jesus are weeping tears. Tears of what? Grief, guilt, remorse, anger, rage, helplessness, hopelessness? They cry, these women cry, as I am crying inside. Our tears are not enough. They cannot touch his pain. They cannot stop the agony.

Individual: Yet my tears cannot feed the hungry. My tears cannot bring peace. Are tears enough? Abba, Father, how can we move beyond weeping when it hurts too much even to breathe sometimes?

Leader: Lord, have mercy upon us.

Vocal Solo: “Have Mercy, Lord” J. S. Bach, alto aria from St. Matthew Passion


Lord Jesus, your great compassion overwhelms us.

I feel petty and selfish when I think of you and the way you love.

Open our eyes. Heal our hearts.

Help us to pour out our agony and fears

to make room in our hearts for your love.

Show us how to love through our tears.


[The fifth candle is extinguished.]


Fifth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

Leader: When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them, and cast lots for my garment.”

(John 19:23–24)

World: The soldiers strip Jesus of his clothing. They gamble away his dignity—and their own. A man is being executed just a few feet away, and they don’t even notice. They don’t care.

Community: We spend fortunes to wrap ourselves in pride and false securities at the expense of others, at the expense of our own planet. We can’t seem to stop. Or don’t we care?

Individual: Why do I keep grasping for more? Me! Mine! My accomplishments. My possessions. My desires. Always demanding my own way, not caring how it might hurt anyone else.

Leader: How well we understand this truth from the apostle Paul: when we want to do good, we don’t. And when we try not to do wrong, we do it anyway.

(adapted from Romans 7:15–21)

Individual: [to Leader 1] It’s hard!

Leader: [to Individual] I know. I was there, too. [looks down] I threw the dice with the rest of them. [to congregation] Didn’t you?

Vocal Duet: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, SSS 163


Abba, Father, tonight we see the shattered illusions

of our self-importance.

We see our possessions laid naked before us,

exposed by the Truth for what they really are:

substitutions for you.

Help us choose the true treasures of faith, hope, and love

that bring healing and wholeness into our world.

Help us choose you.


[The sixth candle is extinguished.]


Sixth Station: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

Leader: There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

(John 19:18–22)

Individual: To mock you, to make sport, a sign is placed above your head announcing in jest your lineage as king of God’s chosen people. Little do they know what they were doing.

World: Don’t think for a moment this was a peaceful death. This was a scene of horror, of humanity at his worst. There is no more painful death than the one Jesus died.

Leader: It is a love that humanity struggles to comprehend.

Community: I don’t want to claim responsibility for this gruesome act. I am disgusted too, like Pilate, and I want to walk away. And yet . . . on the streets today, do I mock you still by the silence in which I announce your love for me?

Choral Music: “He Never Said A Mumblin’ Word / They Crucified My LordTraditional Spiritual


Sweet Lord,

you once withstood abuse in view of the entire world

and never said a word.

Even today we abandon you

and mock you by our indifference.

Yet you love us still. You were trying to tell us

that death does not mean the end,

that suffering has meaning,

and we would not listen.

Forgive us, Lord.


[The seventh candle is extinguished.]


Seventh Station: Jesus on the Cross

Organ Solo: “Adagio for Strings” Barber [played throughout the seventh station]

Leader: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

(John 19:26–27)

Community: And still he loved, even as he was dying: caring for those he cherished most, making sure they would not be left alone, never thinking of himself.

Leader: Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. . . . One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him: “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly. . . . But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

(Matthew 27:38; Luke 23:39–43)

World: Again, Christ reaches beyond his own pain to calm the fear of others. “Don’t be afraid, my friend; you’re coming with me. We’re going home! I’ll show you the way. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”

Leader: At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

(Mark 15:33–34)

Individual: You too, Abba? Must you leave me too? How dark is the night of the soul who feels abandoned by God. [sits]

Leader: When Jesus had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

(John 19:30)



Lord Jesus, you chose death—even death on the cross.

You did this for us.

Your words still ring in our ears.

They are deafening.

They bring us to our knees.

“Not my will, dear Father. Abba . . . thy will be done.”


[The eighth candle is extinguished.]


Eighth Station: Jesus Taken Off the Cross

Leader: At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. . . . The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” . . . And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

(Matthew 27:51–54; Luke 23:48–49, NLT)

World: Death. The loss overwhelms us. Agony sometimes escapes as a scream. At Jesus’ death the earth quakes—screams! A centurion whispers. And then silence.

Individual: Silence. Then silence. The still, silent moment of abandonment that keeps us frozen and watching as if at a distance. It takes a while to learn to breathe again.

Community: When the silence of death stills us and all who have been watching go home, we reach out. Your hand, O God, is the only hand to hold on to on nights like this one.

[The ninth candle is extinguished.]

Leader: Abba, you know the feeling of loss. You understand inconsolable anguish. You weep with us. Your heart was broken once too.

Choral Music: “O Ye People” Casals

All Speakers: Abba. Abba. Abba. . . .


Ninth Station: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Leader: Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.

(Luke 23:50–53, NLT)

Vocal Solo: “Were You There” Anonymous, LUYH 166, GtG 228, SSS 176

Leader: He then rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

(Mark 15:46)

[The larger candle representing Christ is carried out, and those gathered are invited to follow in silence when ready to leave.]

Susan Bartz Herrick, MFA, is a retired professor of speech and theater at the University of North Carolina’s Fayetteville State University and the former worship arts director at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Reformed Worship 146 © December 2022, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.