Last year, Nicole Sallee and I began searching for a creative way to tell the story of Jesus’ last few days. It was important to us that our method was kid friendly, since many passion plays are too violent and bloody for small children to witness. We also wanted a method which engaged the participants’ imaginations and all five senses, so we made the decision that the experience would be as hands on as possible, leaving lots of room for the participants to engage the story for themselves. Last, we decided not to have an actor portraying Jesus. The story would be told from the perspective of those who had witnessed his words and actions.
And so was born the Passion Week Experience, a walk through, holy week event conceived and written by members of the Worship Arts Ministry of Community United Methodist Church in DeBary, Florida. It consists of five interactive experiences relating five important events in the last week of Jesus’ life. Participants literally journey through the experiences, moving from location to location around the church as the story unfolds.
Experience One: Palm Sunday
As persons enter the building, they are greeted by excited, joyful disciples waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” The cast is made up of persons of all ages (great for families who want to act together). They adlib discussion appropriate to Biblical times as needed.
Welcome and Orientation:
Participants gather in the welcome and orientation room and are divided into groups of 10-12. Participants will travel with this group for the rest of the experience. The welcome and orientation room is as simple as possible, with a few chairs against the walls and palm branches and pieces of cloth covering the walking paths. A new group leaves this area every 7-8 minutes.
Experience Two: The Last Supper
In this area, participants join the disciples in the Upper Room as they describe the events of the Last Supper. This experience includes an intimate celebration of Holy Communion in which everyone is invited to participate.
Experience Three: Gethsemane
Participants meet Miriam, a Jewish slave who tells them about a strange night when she heard a distraught man praying before he was arrested. This experience includes time for silent releflection and prayer.
Experience Four: The Walk to Golgotha and the Crucifixion
The soldiers who crucified Jesus have a very difference perspective from the crowd of mourners and onlookers. Some participants are ordered to help carry his cross or hammer the nails.
Experience Five: The Tomb
Participants meet a compassionate Christ-follower, who asks them to help her prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
In the closing room, persons thank the participants for coming and offer them a quiet space to talk about what they have just experienced. As participants exit, they receive a large nail and a pamphlet with some Biblical background on each of the experiences. The pamphlet includes contact information for the church and an invitation to come back for Easter services to hear the rest of the story.
We offer the Passion Week Experience on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights of Holy Week from 6pm-8pm.
Offering this experience last year, instead of our usual Maundy Thursday service, brought tremendous results:
- Interacting with the story helped participants to better understand and relate to the story. Many people were moved to tears, including the cast.
- Instead of serving 75-100 people who regularly attend our church, we served 339 people, many of which were guests.
- Participants experienced the event in a small group with their family or friends. This shared experience became a discussion starter in their homes.
How do you share the Holy Week story?