Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Friday Monologues based on the Gospel of John

As this was my first Good Friday service at Presbury United Methodist Church, I wanted to do something in between the one-man drama and the Tenebrae services led by the last two pastors. I also wanted to work with the other churches in our neighborhood. So Clarks Chapel, Cokesbury Memorial, and New Hope United Methodist Churches joined together in worship this year to put on these monologues I wrote based on the Gospel of John. 

(All participants in the service wear black. Scripture is read from the pulpit, monologues from the floor in front of the altar rail.)

Opening Words
We call this day Good Friday, but what is good about it? It is a day in which the weight of the suffering absorbs our own suffering, where we see how much pain is borne in one body, where everything, everything is subsumed in the darkness. We see brokenness, in the body on the cross, in the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the mocking by the soldiers. We see the brokenness in ourselves.

Who would we be in this story? What brokenness is ours tonight? Where do we see ourselves? These are the questions we ask every year, and every year we may find ourselves in a different place. But every year, we come back to enter the story anew, to seek some kind of understanding amidst the brokenness, to plunge the depths of the darkness so we might better see the light.

Call to Worship
L: For this we know: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
P: And Jesus is the light of the world.
L: This story we are entering into tonight, then, is a judgment. Light has come into the world, but we... 
P: we, the broken, we loved darkness rather than light.1 

1. Jesus Betrayed and Arrested2 (John 18:1-14)
Jesus went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley,where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place;
Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 

Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and asked them, “Whom do you seek?”They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.”Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he; so if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath; Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Judeans authorities seized Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had given counsel to the religious authorities that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

Judas Speaks
(disheveled, pacing)I can still see it, burned into my mind's eye like I am still there--- still standing in that moment looking at him as he prayed in the garden. I couldn't have walked away, the lantern light and jangling weapons had already given us away. Right? That's how it was? Then he was walking toward us...and I knew...I knew...oh God. Have mercy.

I'm sorry. I'm not usually like this. I'm supposed to be the steady one, the one in charge of our common purse. I'm supposed to be the one set in my beliefs. (forced laughter) You know, I always thought I was the only one of them who really understood who the Messiah was. When I first met him, I was moved by his teachings. These teachings for me, as for you, touched somewhere deep inside me. Somewhere hurting. Living in the shadow of a violent and repressive government as my people have for so long, his words of freedom and wholeness and love opened up a new world for us. I am not by nature a passionate, outgoing person like Peter and James and John are, but I was able to offer what small gifts I had to this Messiah and his movement.

But I guess I began to think too much of my gifts. I began to be so controlling. No Mary, don't you touch him with your hair and perfume. No James and John, do not get him a donkey to ride into the city. No not wash anyone's feet. I went to the High Priests. Maybe if I worked with them, I could force the Messiah's hand. Make him act like the great king I thought he should be. That's what I told myself, at least. So I sold him out. (bitterly) Sold him out for thirty pieces of silver. (throw a bag of coins on the floor)

Let me tell you, I wish I could go back to that moment. I wish I could go back, knock the lanterns out of the hands of the soldiers as we approached, helped him escape under the cover of darkness. But I can't. And now all I can see is his face as he turned toward me and saw me leading that band of soldiers...

(whispers) Christ have mercy.
Extinguish the first candle.


2. Peter Denies Jesus (John 18:15-27)
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “Are not you also one of this man's disciples?”

He said, “I am not.”

Now the servants and the officers had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jewish people come together; I have said nothing secretly. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “Are not you also one of his disciples?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”

One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. 
Peter Speaks
It was dark. The firelight flickered at the edge of the courtyard. But the light didn't matter anyway--- nothing could be bright after he was taken away and we were left in the garden, blood still shining on my sword. But despite the overwhelming fog that pushed me down, I somehow managed to move my feet, following Jesus as they took him away. I stood outside the door to his trial, straining to listen, see, trying to figure out what to do, but I could not hear anything. I could not do anything. So I stood there. Empty. Cold.

The first time a woman spoke to me, I barely heard her because the fog surrounding me dampened everything. It was easier to say no--- I didn't want to talk to anyone. After she spoke to me, I moved away from the door, trying not to draw attention to myself. I unconsciously began to warm myself by the fire, but I couldn't feel its warmth, couldn't even smell the smoke. Then two others asked me the same question. “Are you not one of the man's disciples?

I wasn't thinking. Not through any of it. Nothing. It was like a nightmare I was supposed to wake up from any minute. But when the cock crowed, I didn't wake up. I just realized that I had denied knowing the one person who loved me more than anyone in the entire world did--- more than anyone else could.
Extinguish the second candle.


3. Jesus Before Pilate (John 18:28-40)
Then they took Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The religious authorities replied, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”

This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the religious authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After Pilate had said this, he went out to the religious authorities again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Pilate's Monologue
I know you all look at me with contempt. Perhaps not as much as Judas or those other weasels who turned this scraggly homeless rabble-rouser in, but you still turn your noses up at me. I am, after all, the one who agreed to the mob's calls for crucifixion. I am, after all, the one who orders your so-called king to be whipped. But you are the same as me. You are like me in so many ways.

You were probably minding your own business when you first heard of this Jesus like I was. You were probably just trying to do your job when he showed up, calling himself a king. Ha! Here I was, an important Roman official trying to shine the light of our civilized Empire on these barbarians in Jerusalem, and I had to put up with claims of men like this illiterate peasant from backwater Galilee.

He spoke of truth. What is truth? I will tell you. Truth is might. Truth is wealth. Truth is power. He had none. So I saw no crime in his delusions of grandeur. It was others who insisted on his death. I obliged and washed my hands of the whole situation.

(There is a hesitation here)

The problem is that we were all supposed to forget about this Jesus. But even I can't shake the memory of the shock that went through my body when this peasant man spoke of truth...
Extinguish the third candle.


4. Jesus Sentenced to Death (John 19:1-16a)
Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him.

And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The religious authorities answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.

He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the religious authorities cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon.

He said to the religious authorities, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Speaks
It happened so fast none of us could believe it. One night we were eating together, and then it seemed like one by one, the disciples faded away until by daylight only the four of us were left: myself, the Teacher's mother, Mary Magdalene, and one of the disciples. The others were afraid, confused; we were too, of course, but we couldn't be away from him. We couldn't be away from the one who since we had met him reached into our deepest darkest places and spoke words of life and light.

When the disciples rushed to tell us he had been arrested in the garden, we immediately set out to find him. We proclaimed ourselves his disciples when Peter couldn't at Caiaphas' house, though no one heard us. Outside the Roman headquarters, we inserted ourselves into the angry crowd and through throats tightened by grief tried to speak of how good our Teacher was, how he healed so many and fed even more, though the madness of the mob drowned out our stories. We were the lone voices in the crowd calling for no crucifixion, not Jesus, not Barrabas, not anyone. And we were the ones watched in horror as they ridiculed our beloved Teacher and began to tear him apart.

As I stared in disbelief, the horror of it all churning my stomach, I just kept asking: how can people treat one another this way? It doesn't matter that he was innocent of any crime he could be accused of. We are all made in the image of God, yet every day we beat and ridicule and kill one another. When our Beloved lifted the cross, we lost our words. We held each other and sobbed until our bodies shook and no more tears would come. But we stayed. We bore witness. And when our voices return, we will tell our story all the more.
Extinguish the fourth candle.


5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:16b-27) 
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross to the place called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 
(Pause as Jesus carries the cross up through the sanctuary) 

There they crucified him, 
(Another pause as the cross is dropped into place.) 
and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Judeans read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top to the bottom. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 

Mary, Jesus' Mother, Speaks
A parent should never have to watch her child die. But I did. I, like too many parents who lose children in accidents or to illness or just to the horrible violence in this world, stood beside the one who I first held in my arms when he was a baby, the one who since I first felt him stir within me, the one who I've always seen as perfect and beautiful when no one else does--- I stood beside my baby and watched as his life drained away from him.

The sun was shining, but the world seemed to get darker and darker as I watched my son's light get snuffed out. When he cried out and I saw that last breath leave his body, it was like all my breath left my body as well. I collapsed onto the hard earth.

Why, oh God? Why?
Extinguish the fifth candle.


6. Death (John 19:28-30)
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there, so they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Cover the cross with a black cloth.
Extinguish the sixth candle.



7. Burial (John 19:31-42)
Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the Sabbath, especially because the Sabbath was a day of great solemnity, the religious authorities asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,

they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.

These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of him shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the religious authorities, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. 
Nicodemus Speaks
I held his body in my arms, carried him, washed the blood off of him, the sweat, the fear. I, alongside Joseph of Arimathea, anointed him with myrrh, soothed his wounds with aloe though he could no longer feel the pain of the nails or spear. And I laid him down inside a new tomb, dark and cold, but clean and surrounded by a garden.

And all the while, I wondered. I had been drawn to this man since I first heard him speak, even though I heard grumblings from other Pharisees and religious leaders like myself. Soon after I first met him, I sneaked away to question him at night, try to understand the heart of his teaching. He spoke of new birth. I didn't understand then, and perhaps even less now as I have held his lifeless body in my own hands. But even if I didn't always understand it, I know now that this man spoke truth. He was truth. Is truth. And he has made a new way for us, even though the light illuminating that way seems thin and pale in the wake of his death.
Extinguish the seventh candle.


One last candle is left lit.
Mary Magdalene picks it up.

Mary Magdalene Speaks
It is night now. The others are trying to sleep. I have given up. His face, as he struggled to hold his head up under the weight of the senseless cruelty--- I see it whenever I close my eyes. I have no idea how I can go on. He called me forth from the darkness of illness, from the demons that tried to consume me. Now that he's gone, I fear they may come back, that evil will again darken not only my life but all of our lives.

But then I remember his teachings. I remember how he spoke of a God who loves us, who calls us by name, who offers healing for the sick, and a God who weeps when we weep. God weeps with us now.

Mary Magdalene: For this we know: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.
P: And Jesus is the light of the world.
L: What we have heard tonight, then, is a judgment. Light has come into the world, but we...
P: we, the broken, we loved darkness rather than light.
L:Yet even now, even at the end, a light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.
Recessional with the light.

1These words reference John 1 and are adapted from the Greeting, A Service of Tenebrae, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 354.
2All scripture readings are adapted from those found in the Service of Tenebrae, The United Methodist Book of Worship, 354-361. As the General Board of Discipleship explains: “The readings...are by James H. Charlesworth. He accurately translates John 18:1-19:42, with special sensitivity to Jews, Judaism, Jesus' Jewishness, and the Jewish origins of Christianity.”


  1. Shannon -
    this is awe inspiring! Amen!
    Thank you for sharing -
    Blessed Eastertide ~Ninabeth

  2. Wow! These are exactly what I'm looking for! How powerful!

  3. Hello! May I use these monologues as part of a future Good Friday service? I've already planned out this coming one but I can definitely see us doing something similar to what you've posted here. Please email me cate at newlife dot nyc with copyright/credit info.