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Moving from Theatrical to Liturgical: Step 1

In a previous post I suggested that the opposite of liturgical is not free church or non-structured, but theatrical. Any kind of church can be liturgical, in that liturgy literally means "the work or service of the people." But most of the contemporary church has slid into theatre mode, with the paid pastors doing the "work," while the audience watches.

In this post [and one or two that follow] I'd like to put some flesh on what it might look like for a contemporary church to move from theatrical to liturgical. [I originally planned to include several practical ideas in this post, but the first one turned out quite long, so I'm breaking it up.]

Centralize Christ
First of all, foundational to this call is putting Jesus Christ back in the center of worship. He is the ultimate Liturgist, without whom we cannot worship God. It is HIS liturgical action that leads us into our Spiritual worship. But in the contemporary church that has accommodated consumers, the centerpiece of our worship has become a teacher/pastor along with a rock band or other elevated showpiece. The person and work of Christ has been moved to the periphery.

Now, if you ask most contemporary church leaders what is the center of their worship, of course they will say Jesus. But the problem is our words and space are communicating otherwise. We must do more than merely acknowledge behind the scenes the person and work of Christ. Christ must be the verbal and visual focal point of our worship. "I preach Christ and him crucified." Well, do we, or have we substituted Christ with an inferior message? "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church." Do our places of worship reflect this eternal truth, or have we replaced "the image of the invisible God" with inferior images?

I'm not an expert on preaching, so I'll leave the recovery of unabashed Christ proclamation to more qualified bloggers (read this, for example). I do have a couple ideas concerning re-centralizing Christ in our worship spaces, though. One thing we could do (something that Robert Webber advocated and others seem to point to, like Soren Kierkegaard and this guy), would involve abandoning the front-to-back orientation in favor of a round orientation with a prominent symbol of the person and work of Christ in the center around which everyone gathers. What this allows for, in addition to Christ physically being in the center, is people looking at each other as they worship, thus encouraging us towards communal participation and away from individualism. We are forced, in a sense, by our space to consider one another, maybe even to prefer one another over ourselves, seeing each others physical expressions of praise or grief. We might even be moved by the sight of our our sisters and brothers in worship to bear their burden with them in that moment or be encouraged to rejoice with them. Worship in the round puts flesh on the presence of Christ among us and can remove from us the temptation to worship God in abstract, detached ways.

I understand that most contemporary church buildings were built to accommodate the stage-play, front-to-back orientation, so you might be thinking, "Yeah, great idea, but impossible. What are we supposed to do with our permanent stage, our rectangular room, our pews?" If going round is out of the question, there are other ways you can centralize Christ. I might suggest de-centralizing the band, maybe even bringing the band down to the same level as the rest of the people. If Christ, then, replaces our former place of prominence, this move would silently speak volumes and subconsciously form people into participants. It would also open up a whole lot of room on the platform for art and symbol, giving more people opportunity to bring their gifts and contribute towards becoming a fully-functioning body. This gives room for Christ truly be the head of the church, leading us in worship. We, the elevated centerpieces, must dethrone ourselves so that Christ can be exalted and freely work in the hearts of all people.

Are we willing to do this? How might this look in your context?

Other steps we can take moving from theatrical to liturgical (which I plan to write about later) include 2) changing our language from theatrical to liturgical (e.g., is it a "stage" or a "platform," is it an "auditorium" or a "sanctuary"?) and 3) bringing the liturgy into our homes and daily lives (the work of the people never ends).

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Closing Prayer

The Resurrection
Jesus Appears to His Disciples


Take 1 or 2 minutes of silence.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:19-21 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, with joy we view your victorious wounds, help us to meditate on them and to see in them the sign of victory. May they give us courage to go forth with your blessing.

O Jesus, bless us with your outstretched hands. Give us your peace, give us your love. We love you, Jesus; be with us as we go out to do the will of God in our lives.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 14


The Fourteenth Station
Jesus Is Buried


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:



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. This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation, as the Sabbath was about to begin. As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law. (Luke 23:53-56 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, now the time of surrender, of being at rest, begins. It is the seventh day when God rested from the work of creation. And you, the Son of God, rest and await the dawn of the eighth day when all will be made new—and we wait with you.

O Jesus, teach us to rest. Deliver us from thinking that everything depends upon our actions. Help us to be patient in trusting that God will bring about the completion of his creation through you. We love you, Jesus; fill us with your peace.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 13


The Thirteenth Station
Jesus Dies


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last. When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” (Luke 23:44-47 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, the Word spoken by the Father, you now return to him, having accomplished the purpose for which you were sent. Your trust in the Father remains, even amid the dark clouds of death.

O Jesus, may we too accomplish the purpose for which we were created. Help us to commit ourselves into the Father's hands, to trust in him, and believe in his love for us, a love that your death reveals to us. May your dying never be in vain. We love you, Jesus; help us to die to ourselves and live for you.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 12


The Twelfth Station
Jesus Cares for His Mother


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, you give your mother to the disciple you love. Even as you face death, you entrust those whom you love most into each other's care. Your dying is marked by giving, and by concern for the ones who remain. You do not leave us as orphans, you have promised your Spirit to your church, and at the cross the church is born.

O Jesus, help us see that we are the disciples you love, and you have given us each other. We pray that we might allow the Spirit to give us life as sisters and brothers joined in mutual care. We love you, Jesus; bind us as one.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 11


The Eleventh Station
Jesus Promises Paradise to the Crucified Thief


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NLT)


Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, two others are nailed on either side of you. One challenges you to release him now; the other asks to be freed with you in your kingdom. One sees only weakness; the other sees power and is able to trust in a promise of everlasting life with you as his time in this world comes to an end.

O Jesus, look upon us now. See us in our need and hear us as we cry out to you. Help us to trust you in difficult circumstances. Give us eyes to see your power in helpless times, to see your kingdom in all we encounter. We love you, Jesus; remember us.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 10


The Tenth Station
Jesus Is Crucified


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened to the cross above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:33-38 NLT)


Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, your suffering continues as nails are driven into your hands and feet and taunting jeers are hurled at your body imprisoned on the cross. Yet to those who mock and challenge you, you offer no reproach, only forgiveness and compassion for them in their ignorance.

O Jesus, how often we have acted as if the way of the cross were unnecessary and too difficult. We believe we know a better way, a way worn down by the crowd. We find that path goes nowhere. Forgive us; we do not know what we are doing. We love you, Jesus; by your wounds heal us.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 9


The Ninth Station
Jesus Meets the Weeping Women


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women. But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27-31 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, after being silent, you speak. You turn the eyes of the women away from your suffering and toward the destructive powers of sin. You warn them not to shed their tears for you but rather for themselves and their children. If you, the innocent one, can suffer so, what will be the fate of the guilty?

O Jesus, the wood is now very dry! Set fire to the world so that it might burn with your love. Destroy all hatred, fill us with joy again. Teach us to mourn the way things are; show us the way they could be. We love you, Jesus; weep for us.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 8


The Eighth Station
Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, the torture you experienced at the hands of the soldiers left you weak. When you prayed in the garden that the will of the Father be done, and angel was sent to strengthen you. Now as you seek to fulfill the Father's will, he sends Simon to help you.

O Jesus, strengthen us on our journey. Open our hearts to the help you offer through the kindness of others. Open our eyes to the needs of those who walk beside us. We love you, Jesus; lighten our burdens.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 7


The Seventh Station
Jesus Takes up His Cross


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). (John 19:16b-17 NLT)


Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, like Isaac carrying the wood to the mountain, you set out with the wood of the cross. But unlike him you will not ask your Father where the lamb is, because you know you are the lamb of the sacrifice. You now begin your journey with the cross.

O Jesus, you carry a cross, which is given unjustly. You willingly bear the burden of our sinfulness and accept the cross of our guilt. There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. We love you, Jesus; help us to show this love in our lives.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 6


The Sixth Station
Jesus Is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. (Mark 15:16-19 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, soldiers of an earthly realm mock your kingship. You are so powerless in their eyes, so weak, the ruler of a kingdom that cannot be seen, and, therefore, must not exist. They treat you as a foolish impostor, caught in a lie.

O Jesus, how often do we look for the kingdom with the eyes of the world rather than with the eyes of faith. We forget your promise that your kingdom is among us. Help us to see your strength in our weakness, your reign in our powerlessness. We love you, Jesus; establish your rule over us.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 5


The Fifth Station
Jesus Is Condemned by Pilate


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. ...But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed. So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. (Luke 23:13-15, 23-24 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, Pilate perceives your innocence, but the crowd insists on guilt. Hearing their persistent shouts, Pilate sets aside the judgment of his conscience, and the decision is made. He hands you over to be crucified.

O Jesus, how often do we let the threatening voice of the crowd overwhelm the voice of conscience? Fill us with compassion for the outcast and commitment to the truth. We love you, Jesus; lead us beyond the crowd.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 4


The Fourth Station
Peter Denies Knowing Jesus


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75 NLT)


Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, you told Peter that he would deny you three times before the rooster would crow. He did not believe you. He swore that he would never deny you, and that in fact he was willing to die for you. Peter felt that he knew himself better than you knew him. But now as dawn approaches and the rooster crows, he sees the truth.

O Jesus, we set out to follow you but then quickly turn, going our own way. We are afraid to acknowledge you in front of others, but you speak to us in the midst of our denial. We love you, Jesus; keep us faithful to you.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 3


The Third Station
Jesus Is Condemned by the Sanhedrin


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:62-66 NLT)


Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, your words are blasphemy to the ears of the high priest. He tears his garments, unable to see the presence of God in the one who stands before him arrested and accused. He cannot believe in a God who, because of such great love, would willingly become so powerless.

O Jesus, we can be so limited in our vision. We find it difficult to look beyond our narrow expectations and see you as you are. Give us the grace to hear your words clearly and to follow you in truth. We love you, Jesus; reveal to us what God is like.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 2


The Second Station
Jesus Is Betrayed and Arrested


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

And immediately, even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss. Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. (Mark 14:43-46 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, as you wake your disciples, one who has not slept arrives with an angry crowd. Judas reveals your identity to them with a kiss. His act of affection is a signal to point you out as the one who loves but is rejected by his own.

O Jesus, we are quick to greet you with affection in our prayer and worship. But how often do our external words and actions conceal hearts that are easily turned from you? We love you, Jesus, help us to love you with all of our hearts.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Station 1


The First Station
Jesus Prays in the Garden


Take 1 or 2 minutes to silently reflect upon the image above.


Slowly read aloud this passage of Scripture:

He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.” (Luke 22:41-46 NLT)

Kneel or simply open your hands and pray:

Jesus, we see you in the garden, praying in the darkness of night. Your anguished prayer is one of deep struggle with the Father's will. While you agonize over the Father's will and are strengthened to fulfill his plan, your disciples, overcome with sadness, can do nothing but give themselves over to sleep. As we begin this journey with you, Jesus, help us to see that for you it was a journey of love. May we learn from this walk how to follow you more closely and accept the love that you have for us.

O Jesus, wake us from our sleep. Help us to face life's difficulties honestly, knowing that we can trust in God. Strengthen us in the time of our trials. May our prayer always be an expression of all that we are, and all that we do. We love you, Jesus; teach us how to pray.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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Biblical Way of the Cross: Introduction

Beginning Sunday, April 10 we will be posting daily devotions to lead us prayerfully on the Biblical Way of the Cross. We are invited to spend five minutes a day for 14 days (15 including Easter Sunday) as individuals, families, or groups to seriously reflect upon and enter into the death of Jesus, coming to grips with the reality of our sin and Christ's dealing with it--the ultimate demonstration of God's love for us.

If you have never taken the time to seek the Lord in this way, we encourage you to just do it. Give yourself to this ancient practice. Each devotion is very short and includes a piece of art depicting the station, a Scripture reading, and soul-searching prayers. The devotions are taken (and slightly adapted) from a wonderful little pamphlet, Biblical Way of the Cross. Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel wrote the prayers, and the artwork is by Michael D. O'Brien. Hear their heart from the Introduction:
Praying [the] Biblical Way of the Cross can lead to an experience of the deep love of God revealed through the suffering and death of the Lord. It can also provide an opportunity for reflection on how God's love is revealed through our experiences of loss, betrayal, and death. Praying these stations, whether in private or as a public prayer, should help a person draw closer to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that as you follow this Way of the Cross you will experience the same certitude of faith in the love that God has for you as Jesus did when he accepted his cross, and that you will be rewarded with a share in his resurrection.
We cannot rise with Christ unless we first die with him. So, join us!

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