He Is Risen
By Rick Shallenberger, Editor
The format is “Reader’s Theater.” You are all telling different views of the same story. In this particular Reader’s Theater format, you aren’t really in conversation with each other, but you will be feeding off each other’s comments – as if the words they said just triggered your next thought, or just fit in perfectly with your next thought. You do not have to memorize your lines, but you should look over them several times so you can read with feeling and emotion. All five people will be lined up with microphones and a music stand for your notes. The narrator will be at the podium.
There are several statements that are all said together or interrupt each other. It would be good to practice these transitions ahead of time. I’d suggest sitting and reading through it together and then having rehearsal before the Easter Event.
Characters include: A Narrator and five readers.
Readers are Mary, Mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; the Apostle John, the Apostle Peter, and the Pharisee Saul. All will start off depressed, sad, feeling burdened except Saul who is excited that the insurrectionist is finally dead. All will be surprised at Saul’s responses and it’s OK to glance at him as he talks, but don’t give any hint of disgust or disapproval. Simple glances of surprise will suffice.
In Scene 1: It’s very early Sunday morning. All five are sitting down and will rise when introduced. it’s good to have a music stand light (or you can hold a lit candle) which can be turned off (blown out) at the end of the first scene.
Have someone read Matthew 27:57 – 28:1 in between the two scenes.
In Scene 2: You will be standing by your music stand and turn on the light. If you don’t have a light, don’t worry about the candle during this scene.
Scene 1: It’s very early Sunday morning. You’ve had a very long night and your mind is full of questions. Four of you are dreading this day. One is looking forward to it.
Narrator: Welcome to Jerusalem, 33 AD. We are going to listen to five different people talk about the first Easter. (Pause after each introduction to give the reader time to stand and either turn on her music stand light or illuminate a candle.)
Our first reader is Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Beside her is the one Jesus asked to take care of her after his death, the Apostle John.
Next, we have a woman who spent a lot of time with Jesus and Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene.
Our next reader is the Rock, the one Jesus said would build his church, the Apostle Peter.
Our final reader is a man who does not believe in Jesus. He’s a member of the Sanhedrin, one of the greatest scholars of the law, the Pharisee Saul.
We open the scene today very early Sunday morning. It’s still dark outside and our five characters have had a long night. Let’s listen in.
Mary: My Son is dead. How could I sleep?
All: It was a long night.
Mary: I feel so sad
Peter: … so guilty
Saul: … so excited
Mary M: … so depressed
John: … so full of remorse
Mary: I spent all night in prayer.
Peter: I spent all night in shame.
Saul: I spent most of the night praising God.
Mary M: I spent the night crying.
John: I spent all night asking God to help me understand.
Peter: It happened so fast. There we were enjoying a meal in the upper room when Jesus (shaking his head and almost sobbing) grabbed a bowl and washed my….
John: (surprised) He washed my feet! When he got to Peter, Peter tried to stop him, said it wasn’t something the Master should do. I have to admit, I agreed with Peter, but then Jesus said, “Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no…
Peter: “You have no part with me,” he said. That scared me and I said, “wash me all over Lord, my head, my hands, my feet, my body”… but he said just my feet. I still don’t understand what it all means – the Master taking the role of a servant? It was a bit odd. Then he looked around and said,…
John: “Not all of you are clean.” I had no idea what he was talking about. But that didn’t surprise me. There were other things I didn’t understand either. But then Jesus said we should start washing each other’s feet as well. He said we shouldn’t treat people as servants, but that WE should be servants. He started talking about the Holy Spirit, and then he got really…
Peter: … really serious. I should have known what was coming, but it didn’t sink in, I’m so stupid, so stupid. He said we would all betray him. And then my pride got ahead of my mouth, as usual, and I said as loud and as proud as I could “OH, I’ll never forsake you, Jesus. I’ve got your back” (Repeat in a sarcastic voice and a bit less loud) “I’ll never forsake you, I’ve got your back” (shaking head and going quiet, almost as an afterthought) “So Stupid, So arrogant, What a fool I was!… (murmuring) “I’ll never forsake you…
John: “I’ll never forsake you!” I thought. We all felt what Peter had just said out loud. Then Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times that very night. I really felt for Peter. He looked completely rejected. It was awkward for a moment, then Jesus started sharing about the Holy Spirit and reminded us that the new commandment he was giving us was to love each other.
Peter: “Love each other,” he told us. Well, I was having a tough time even feeling loved. First he washes my feet, then he tells me I’m going to reject him. It was so confusing, and I was feeling hurt and, I admit, I was a bit upset as we left…
John: We left the upper room and Jesus said we were going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. A lot was going through my mind as we headed down the stairs.
Mary: When the men came down the stairs, I could tell something had happened in that upper room. Jesus came out and hugged me, but he looked burdened. The disciples looked like they’d gone through something as well. I felt my heart leap and got a bit concerned but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I looked at Peter and he looked…
Mary M: Scared and almost angry. I asked Peter, “What’s going on?” and he said Jesus had told him he would deny him that very night. He looked at me with eyes full of hurt and pain. Then he said,…
Peter: “How could he say that about me?” I’d always been there for him. I was angry and hurt, but also a bit scared. What if it was true? I was determined to prove him wrong. I’ll show him I can be trusted.
Saul: I was entrusted to keep an eye on the enemies of God – the insurrectionists who were following the false prophet – Jesus. I saw them leaving the upper room and knew the time had come. Judas had come to us earlier and told us where these enemies of God were. I was around the corner with some of my fellow loyal servants of God – the Pharisees. Jesus had to be stopped. He had blasphemed God saying he was the Son of God. There is only One God, every good Jew knows this. This whole insurrection thing was getting out of hand. I knew in just a few hours we’d have this man in chains and standing before Herod. When I saw him come into the street, my anticipation of stopping him made my heart leap…
Mary: My heart leaped whenever I saw my Son. But when I looked in his eyes that night, I saw sorrow and pain. I’d seen that look before. He got it when he felt the men were just not getting it. He’d tried to tell them who he was, and they just didn’t accept it. How can I blame them? I’d given birth to Jesus by the grace of God, and I had a hard time accepting what it all meant. I hugged Jesus and he held on to me tightly. I told him I loved him and he said,…
Mary M: “You and Mary need to go home and pray for strength. Pray for your strength and pray for my strength,” And then he kissed his mom and Me on the cheek and hugged us both again. He held on to us the longest time and it left me with the strangest feeling, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I wish now I had said more, so much more I want to say to him, to thank him, to encourage him. (pause for reflection) Later that night I had the thought it was almost like he was trying to give us some of his strength to carry us through the next couple days. Jesus said they were going to….
Saul: “The Garden of Gethsemane,” I heard him say. We left and went to the Sanhedrin to gather the men. It was the perfect place to arrest Jesus. It took a while, but we rallied the troops and cried out, “Let’s finish this. To the Garden…
Peter: The Garden of Gethsemane was where we went. When we arrived, Jesus asked us to stay awake and pray with him. After a big meal, and a couple glasses of wine, I just could not stay awake, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t…
John: I could not stay awake. Three times he tried to wake us up, but I kept falling asleep again. It didn’t seem that big a deal at the time, but it really bothered Jesus. Now I understand why, when he needed us most, we didn’t support him. We couldn’t even stay awake. Then it all happened…
Peter: It all happened so fast. You know the story; I don’t need to go through it again. Jesus was arrested, (Angry) Judas was the betrayer, I’d sure like to get my hands on him. It was pandemonium – people yelling, I saw some of the guys run away…
John: We ran away. Just like Jesus said we would do. We ran like cowards. Well, not all of us. I saw Peter jump in front of Jesus, draw his sword and swing it. I think he hit someone. I couldn’t believe how brave he was, he didn’t even panic.
Peter: In panic, I drew my sword and just swung it. I didn’t even pay attention to who I attacked. I cut off some servant’s ear and before it fell to the ground Jesus reached out to me and held my arm. He told me to put away my sword and then he healed the man’s ear. It was amazing, and how did I respond? Like the brave follower? Not at all, I slipped through the crowd and did exactly what Jesus said. I denied him. (Getting loud and angry at yourself) Not once! Not twice. Three times!!! Three Times I tell you! (Lower head, sob and speak quietly) And now he’s dead! I ran away. I hid my face. (Raise head and look up to heaven) I admit it God, I’m nothing but a …
John: …a coward. That’s what I am. A coward. Is it any wonder I couldn’t sleep?
Mary: I couldn’t sleep. I saw my son die. The soldiers beat him, they disfigured him, they made him carry that wretched cross while people all around yelled at him. (Shaking your head in disbelief) Some of my own friends mocked him and yelled for his crucifixion. How will I ever forgive them? I saw family friends laughing at him. Is it any wonder I didn’t sleep?
Mary M: I didn’t sleep. It was all so horrible; I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. There was no way I could sleep.
Saul: Sleep wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. It was a brutal crucifixion, but it was necessary. We’ve got to get the idea of insurrection out of these people’s minds. We’ve got to show these followers of Jesus that he was just a man. He bled like every other man. He died like any other man. It’s over. Is it any wonder I’m happy. It’s over. Just the words make me feel … well so ….
Peter: …guilty… (turn off light or blow out candle and sit down)
Mary: … sad (turn off light or blow out candle and sit down)
John: …full of remorse ((turn off light or blow out candle and sit down)
Mary M:… depressed (turn off light or blow out candle and sit down)
Saul: … excited! (Looks around and notices the other’s lights are out and they are sitting down. He shrugs his shoulders, turns out his light and sits down)
Narrator: It had been a long night which had followed a long Sabbath day. But unknown to these five characters, something extraordinary had happened that night. For four of them, the news would be the best news they would ever here. The world would never be the same. Their lives would never be the same.
He is Risen (Scene 2)
Scene 2: In this scene, you will receive the news about Jesus’ resurrection. So though you start the scene still in the same emotion you ended the last scene, you will run through a gamut of emotions before the scene ends.
Mary: I dreaded even starting this day. Several of us were going to the tomb to take spices to anoint my son’s body. My biggest concern was how to move the large stone I’d heard they put in front of the grave. I wasn’t sure who we would get to break the seal and move that stone. I sat there in the dark thinking, worrying, weeping, and waiting for the sun to come up so I could go meet with Mary and Salome and go to the tomb.
Mary M: The tomb was where I wanted to be – alone, so I could just sit and think before I met with Mary, Salome and others. I left the house while it was still dark and almost knocked over my oil lamp. Looking at the oil, I suddenly remembered what Jesus said when I anointed his feet with oil. He said I had prepared his feet…
John: Prepared his feet for burial, that’s what he said. Why those thoughts came to me suddenly, I cannot say. But I remembered the day Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with precious perfume. At first we were upset at the perceived waste. But Jesus told us to leave her alone. Now it’s starting to make sense. Somehow Mary knew just what to do that day. I’ll never forget her washing his feet and wiping them off with her hair…
Mary M: I wiped his feet off with my hair. It wasn’t my idea, it just happened. At the time what I did surprised even me. But I now believe God wanted me to do this for his burial. (Lowers her head and sobs a bit.) I can’t believe he’s gone. I just want to go to the tomb and pray.
Peter: Pray, pray, pray. That’s all I’ve been doing, asking God for forgiveness. I know Jesus’ family will be going to the tomb to anoint his body and I’d like to be there, but I feel so unworthy. I feel so ashamed of myself…
Saul: So ashamed of myself for not stopping this sooner. I’d let things get out of hand. But he got so popular so fast. Everywhere he went people were following him, believing his lies, falling for his smooth teaching. THE FOOLS! Did they not hear the blasphemy? Did they not hear his false claims of being the Son of Jehovah? What fools they all are. I should have stopped it earlier. Now he’s dead and there will be many coming to the temple in guilt. They will all feel ashamed, so very ashamed…
John: So very ashamed of myself for not treating Mary better. For not believing Jesus. But how was I to know? And what do I believe now? My faith is shaky at best:
Mary: Shaky at best is how I feel. I can barely stand, and yet I need to go anoint the body of my baby, my Jesus, my precious Son, how could this happen? I started praying: (Lift head to heaven in prayer) “Oh, God, I don’t understand. He was supposed to be the Messiah. You said he would be given the throne of his father David. You said he would be called the Son of the Most High. I don’t understand,” (Lower head, still in prayer) “Please… Help me understand….
Saul: “Help me understand,” I said to Jehovah God. “Help me understand why these people are so weak, and so hungry for a Messiah that they actually started to believe that this uneducated carpenter from Nazareth” (say under your breath) – and we know Nothing good comes from Nazareth – they believed this carpenter might be the Messiah.” “I’ve studied the Torah all my Life, Eternal One, why didn’t they come to me? How can they be so blind, so easily swayed? Jehovah God, Help me understand…”
Mary M: “Help me understand what it all meant,” I prayed to the Holy One. “Why did he have to die, Jehovah? Help me understand…”
Peter: “Help me understand why I was so weak. Help me understand why I wanted to do one thing, but then I did another. Help me understand how I can repent. Eternal God of All, help me understand…”
John: “Help me understand the other words Jesus spoke that I didn’t get at the time. Holy Father, help me understand.”
Mary M: (With nervous excitement and great concern) I could not believe my eyes. The stone had been removed from the tomb. I ran and looked in. It was empty. I was in shock. Why had the stone been moved? Who moved it? Where was Jesus? What had they done with his body? It was more than I could handle. I knew I had to go get Peter.
John: Peter needed encouragement, so I went over to his home for be with him, to pray with him and to share breakfast.
Peter: Breakfast was what I needed. John came over and I invited him to join me. We had just started preparing it when Mary Magdalene came rushing in talking so fast I could hardly understand what she was saying. Something about the stone being moved and the body gone.
John: “The body is gone! His body is gone!” Mary was yelling as she rushed in. They’ve taken our Lord and I don’t know where he is. Peter and I looked at each other and Peter said, “What do…
Peter: “What do you mean gone?” I asked. “How can the body be gone?” “I don’t know”, Mary said, “It’s just gone…”
Saul: (Loud and angry) It’s just gone? What do you mean the body is just gone? We told you to watch the tomb. We sealed a stone at the tomb. We told you to make sure Roman guards were at the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body. Don’t tell me it’s just gone.
Mary M: “It’s just gone” I said to Peter and John. I went to the tomb and the stone was moved and Jesus wasn’t there. I’ve got to go get Mary.”
John: “Go get Mary,” I said to her. Then Peter and I took off running to the tomb. I ran as fast as I could and got to the tomb well before Peter. I stood there panting a bit and looked inside. Sure enough, Jesus’ body was gone. But I noticed something. I stared at what appeared to be the linen cloths Jesus had been wrapped in. Then Peter caught up and went right in.
Peter: I went right into the tomb as soon as I got there. Mary was right. Jesus was gone. I looked around and saw the linens that I assumed he had been wrapped in, then I saw something else. I turned to John and said, “Look at that.”
John: “Look at that” Peter said and pointed to another part of the tomb. I went into the tomb and looked where Peter was pointing. I saw the cloth which had covered Jesus’ face. It was neatly folded and set apart from the other cloths. It was then I knew.
Saul: I knew something like this would happen. I knew these insurrectionists would try to pull off something like this. I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know how they got that stone moved, or how they got past the Roman guards, or how they carted the body away without anyone catching them. But I’ll get to the end of this. (Shaking your head), I knew it, I just knew…
Peter: I knew! Right then I knew! He hadn’t been taken. He had risen from the dead. Just as he said. I heard John come in the cave and see the folded cloth. He just stopped and stared and then he gasped, looked at me and said, “I believe!”
John: “I believe!” It was at that point, that I finally understood and believed. Jesus was more than just my friend. He truly was my master, my Lord, and the Son of God. Peter and I just looked at each other and suddenly we both felt the need to get out of that tomb and go and just spend some time with God. So, we went home.
Peter: We went home. I told John I just wanted to think things through. I was excited about what this all meant and scared to death at the same time. I mean, if he’s alive, I couldn’t wait to see him, but I I wasn’t sure I wanted to face him. I was so ashamed of how I deserted him. “Oh God,” I cried, “Can you forgive me? I want to believe you can, I want to believe…”
Mary: I wanted to believe, but it’s just incredible. When Mary Magdalene came in telling me the stone was moved, the guards were gone, Jesus was gone, I didn’t know what it all meant. How can this be? What would anyone want the body for? Was his body just stolen or could the impossible have happened? Could he have risen from the dead as he said he would? Oh, I wanted to believe…
Mary M: I wanted to believe this was the act of God and not the act of grave robbers. I headed back to the tomb to gather my thoughts and to see if I could make sense of it all. When I got there it all just hit me, and I started weeping. I was standing outside the tomb just weeping. Then for some reason, I have no idea why, I leaned down to look into the tomb again and couldn’t believe my eyes. Two angels sat in the tomb. One where Jesus’ head must have been, and one where his feet were. They said, “Why are you weeping?” I cried to them: “Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him” Then I laid my head on a rock and I wept…
Mary: … I wept as the thoughts poured through my mind. What if he was alive? What if the prophecies were coming to pass. All the words Gabriel told me came to my mind. I lifted my eyes to God, and I wept…
Peter: I wept in joy, in guilt, in triumph, in shame, in hope. I wept…
John: I wept knowing in my heart that Jesus was the Son of God. So many thoughts came to my mind. So many things he had said were starting to make sense. It was too much. My heart leaped with joy, and I turned to God and in joy I wept…
Saul: I wept; I was so angry. I was mad at the Roman guards, I was mad at the disciples, I was mad at the Sanhedrin for not sending more men to guard the grave. I wept at the thought of how this theft of the body would make more people question Jesus. It wasn’t over, as I thought. “Oh Jehovah, what do I do?” I cried, as I wept…
Mary M: As I wept, I turned and saw a man I assumed was the gardener. My eyes were too filled with tears to see him clearly. He too asked, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” I told him I was looking for Jesus and then he said, “Mary!” I couldn’t believe it! It was Him. It was Jesus. I ran to him, but he told me, don’t cling to me, but go to the disciples and tell them I’m going to ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and to your God. So I ran…
Saul: I ran to the Sanhedrin and got the Pharisees and Sadducees together. I filled them in on what happened – the disciples had stolen the body of the false teacher. It was going to be a mess, I warned them. This would make people want to follow this Jesus. It would make his disciples look powerful. They could tell people anything, and without the body in the tomb, people would believe them. We needed to stick together. We needed to uphold the truth. We needed to stick to the law. We needed to remind everyone Jesus was killed, and he died. Don’t let anyone convince you he is alive…
Mary: He is alive! Mary Magdalene saw my Son. He talked to her. He said he was going to ascend to the Father, His Father, my Father, His God, My God. I can’t believe it. He’s alive! My Son is Risen! I want to dance and sing and tell everyone: He is Alive!
Mary Magdalene: “He is Alive!” was all I could say. I told Mary, and Salome, and Peter and John, and Matthew, and Thomas and the rest of the disciples. “He is Alive! I saw him. He is ascending to his Father and our Father. He said to tell everyone He is alive!”
Peter: “He is alive?” I asked? Mary kept laughing and jumping and hugging me. “Yes, he’s alive. I talked to him. He’s coming to see you.” I stopped to catch my breath. He’s alive! For a moment I forgot about my shame, the garden, the denials, the fear, and I shouted, “He’s alive! Jesus has risen from the dead. I’ve seen the empty tomb. He is Alive!”
John: “He is alive!” Mary and Peter told me. Mary Magdalene and Peter and Jesus’ Mom were all taking at once. “We need to tell everyone! He was dead and now he lives. Jesus was persecuted, he was lied about, he was beaten, he was crucified, he was dead, but now he lives.” Who else can die and then live but the Son of God.” I looked at all of them and I grabbed all of them in a big hug and said, “Praise be to God.” Then words came to me that must have been from God himself. I stood on top of a stool and said, “For the Father so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that all who believe in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.”
“My friends,” I continued, “we are to live a new commandment, as Jesus said. We are to love one another as he loved us. And we are to spread the word about Jesus. He is the true Son of God who came to this earth and lived among us and died. But that’s only the beginning. The Good News is that Jesus is alive. He is Risen!” (Stop and lift your arms in praise!)
Mary: He is Risen! (Stop and lift your arms in praise!)
Peter: He is Risen! (Stop and lift your arms in praise!)
Mary M: He is Risen! (Stop and lift your arms in praise!)
(When Narrator starts, all five sit down in their chairs.)
Narrator: He is Risen indeed! And that is the story of the first Easter. That is why we are here today. The tomb was empty, because Jesus had Risen. It’s time to celebrate!!!
Have Worship Team start right in with song: Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate, or some other celebratory or festive song.
(Four actor/readers join congregation in singing, Saul quietly leaves the room.)
(While worship is under way, and before the song finishes, Peter runs to center stage.)
Peter: “I get it now! I understand! Brothers and sisters, please, please listen to me. When we were in the upper room with Jesus the night before he was betrayed and crucified, we ate a meal with him. During the meal Jesus took bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to us and said, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.” Then he took the cup and thanking God, he gave it to us and said, “Drink this, all of you. This is my blood, God’s new covenant poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.””
Prayer: “Loving Triune God, the Lord’s table has been set. Bless these sacraments and bless all of us, your beloved children, as we take these symbols of Christ and his love for us. He is in us and we are in Him and He is in the Father. In His name we pray, and all God’s children say… Amen.”
I invite everyone to come and eat at the Lord’s table which He prepared for all. Come and eat and continue to celebrate Jesus.