For Pentecost — Service Reversing the Tenebrae

This Readers’ theatre based in Acts2: 1-21 that I have written can be shared by lay lay readers. One rehearsal would be wonderful. Since they do not interact, it can even be done without one!

Pastor’s Introduction:

On Maundy Thursday evening each year we have a service of Tenebrae – which is the Latin word for “shadows.” There is a series of six to eight readings and, after each one, a candle is extinguished, leaving us more in the dark as we remember Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion.

Today, Pentecost, the birthday of the church, we have a “Reverse Tenebrae,” what might be called a Service of Lighten-ing or banishing shadows.  There are eight readings in the characters of some of those who must have been present at that first Pentecost in Jerusalem. When each of them is finished speaking, a candle is lit.

After each pair of readers, we sing a simple familiar prayer chorus or verse of a hymn.

Matthias speaks:

I won.  Winning an election is a frightening responsibility. I was with Jesus from the beginning – from his baptism right through … well, when all us men ran away and he was executed. The Twelve were special but many men and women traveled with him, saw the miracles, heard the stories. Peter got it into his mind that Judas needed to be replaced so there would be still be that mystical number “twelve”. Judas’ betrayal cut him off the list, and he died, too, and was buried in the field he bought with the blood money. So it was between Joseph Barsabbas, a great guy – I would have voted for him — and me, Matthias, and, like so many elections, they rolled the dice.

I won. I don’t know what that will mean but it is going to be dangerous. It began this morning – Pentecost morning. I remember Jesus always said – the last would be first. There was this sound of rushing wind and I looked up and there was a flame coming out of my forehead.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Mary the mother of Jesus speaks:        

Jesus was my son. Jesus is my son. I’m only forty-eight but by the time I saw him crucified, I felt a hundred. My other sons are here – James, Joses, Simon and Jude — and I know they are going to play a part in their brother’s amazing story. Jesus asked an adopted son John to get me out of the worst of the danger in Ephesus.  This morning we are all still here in the Upper Room with wind and sparks and the sound of strange voices.

Actually what I am thinking about is a little boy, ten years old, leaning trustingly against my side while I lit the Sabbath candles on the table my husband Joseph made me in our little house in Nazareth.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

 Sing a verse or chorus.

Salome speaks:

My name is Salome and, before you ask, NO, I don’t dance. I am not that Salome! I’m  Salome the disciple. Mary from Magdala and I were the two women disciples of … well, the younger generation. There was his mother, his aunt, Joanna whose husband was the steward, but the two of us hung out with the young guys. So yeah, Matthias, we saw the healings and we heard the stories. We were there until Jesus died and we laid him gently in the borrowed tomb. I was there that Sunday, fifty days ago.

But I am shy. Want someone to stay with you through everything? That’s me. Want someone to give a speech? … Not so much. Now I am supposed to be keeping up with Peter’s sermon in Cappadocian. This is scarier than a troop of Romans — Cappadocians counting on me to hear about the light of the world.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

John Mark speaks:

Younger generation? Salome is, like, thirty! I’m John Mark and I’m eighteen. This is my Mom’s Upper Room. She’s been letting them meet here since Jesus floated away. They’ve been waiting and praying because Jesus said they would have this amazing power. And we are going to travel everywhere – even Rome! I can’t wait.

I’m going to be a writer. I’m going to put everything down so that people will always have the story about Jesus of Nazareth. My mom said I should stay close to Peter and I would get everything from the … from his mouth. Peter always has a lot to say. He’s preaching now and it just sets our hearts on fire!

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Sing a verse or chorus.

Barabbas speaks:

What the Hades is going on here?

It’s his followers – that guy they crucified instead of me. I’m Barabbas – most people know my face. Not as many as knew that preacher from Galilee. What a sucker – he didn’t say anything. No defense. Nothing. I knew what I was in for – the revolution to free our people … and, well, some of the things a revolution needs to fund itself. I’m not proud of everything I did, but I must be somebody if that Jesus thought I was worth saving. So what’s going on with all of his followers today? There are like fifteen languages and the crowd is the size … well, a pickpocket would have a field day. I’m through with all of that, I swear (if swearing is still OK) and I’m just not religious enough for Masada. I’m out of that gang. I burnt those bridges.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Alexander speaks: 

Look at this crowd; listen to the excitement. Here’s something I want to be a part of. The last crowd frightened me. I’d come to Jerusalem from Cyrene with my brother Rufus and my Dad Simon. It was a killing mob that day and we only wanted to get back to the inn, but my Dad was yanked out of the bystanders and became a part of the drama whether he wanted to be or not. I’m only twenty, you know, and this is the truth – my father is always a major embarrassment. Do you know what I mean? He does something and I just want to crawl under the chariot and hide. But this time I was proud of him.

He’s back in Africa, but Rufus and I decided to stay here and figure out what to do with our lives. Peter is calling people forward to be baptized. See that big rough-living man, looks like a robber to me – he’s going forward to be baptized. In fact it looks like thousands are doing it. And I am going to be one of them. Somehow I don’t think the water of baptism will extinguish the fire in my heart.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Sing a verse or chorus.

Joel, the beggar at the Beautiful Gate speaks:

I can’t see anything folks. Can you clear a view for the beggar who has to sit on the ground? I can’t stand up. This is my regular begging position and there are so many people here that I will be hungry tonight. This crowd is focused on something other than one poor man who cannot walk.

I hear the wind, voices in languages from around the world. People are pushing forward to be baptized. I can see little bits of flame. But all the crowd-religions in the world don’t mean anything to me if there’s nothing for one lonely individual.  If this famous Peter who is giving the speech right now, or John, the guy who’s been taking care of the prophet Jesus’ mother come to visit me, just me, Joel the beggar, then I will believe. Until then, carry me home. Light of the world? I’ll light my own candle, on the way to bed, thank you. very much.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Mary Magdalene speaks:

I didn’t know how to love him.

I followed him. I listened to him. I told everyone how he healed me. I paid the expenses of our travels. I was there with Salome at the end and at the new beginning.

And then I didn’t even recognize him. I thought he was a gardener – what a fool I was! Then when he called to me I wanted to hang on. I wanted Jesus, my friend, my beloved, my teacher – not this Holy Spirit, not this young-man’s-adventure to see the world. I know we are responsible to tell the story to convicted felons and simple merchants who end up with a cross to carry, to mothers with broken hearts and candidates without a clue who get themselves elected. I can promise you – I can promise you — Joel, beggar at the Beautiful Gate – Jesus always has time for the individuals especially the ones that no one else seems to see. I promise you that his fire will be lit in your life.

Reaches over and lights a candle.

Sing a verse or chorus.


Surely the Holy Spirit was present that Pentecost Day so many years ago in Jerusalem. Matthias the new disciple, Jesus’ tired but hopeful mother, John Mark who would write the first gospel so that people of all times could learn who Jesus was, Salome and Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ early women disciples, had each already been touched by God’s presence, and the fire kindled in them that day would last all their lives long. And there would be new disciples as well. When Pentecost day was over there were three thousand baptized and I think that perhaps among them were Alexander, whose father carried Jesus’ cross and Barabbas whose life was saved because of that cross. We know from the next chapter in Acts that Peter did come back to find Joel, the beggar at the Beautiful Gate and offer him God’s love.

Ultimately these candles are lit to show us the path and we, too, on this Pentecost Day and the 364 that follow are in the business of being bright for God, for surely the presence of God is in this place!  Amen.

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3 Responses to For Pentecost — Service Reversing the Tenebrae

  1. Rosalie Sugrue says:

    Love it!

  2. Mary Beth Mankin says:

    Maren, this is great. I’ve shared it with a few others. Have a joyous Pentecost!

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