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'Thanks for the memory': Maundy Thursday

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To look at the sacrifices people make for others and how we remember them.

Preparation and materials

  • In the assembly, reference is made to the sci-fi film Mission to Mars. If possible (checking copyright), at the beginning of the assembly, play the sequence that occurs about three-quarters of the way through the film, when the three astronauts are marooned away from their spaceship, outside the atmosphere of Mars and in grave danger. End the clip at the point where the self-sacrificing astronaut burns up in the Martian atmosphere. If you cannot use the film, consider displaying a large image or poster of space exploration or a spaceship to serve as a focus.
  • You could also have bread and wine (perhaps in the sorts of vessels used on a Christian altar) for Step 5 in the assembly. Also, you could read the passage from Luke 22.14–20, about the Last Supper, if you wish.
  • Have available either the title music from Mission to Mars (Hollywood Records) or 2001: A Space Odyssey and the means to play it at the end of the assembly. Alternatively, choose any of the movements from Gustav Holst's The Planetssuite. 'Mars' is one of the most dramatic and discordant, but listen to it ahead of the assembly and decide whether or not it gives the effect you want.


  1. Either start by playing the clip from the film (see ‘Preparation and materials’ above) or introduce the idea of space travel and its dangers.

    Is there any way of travelling safely in space?

    When the Challenger space rocket blew up just after take-off, everyone on board was killed. Would it really matter if nobody ever went into space? Why bother to take the risk? Is the journey really necessary?

  2. The film Mission to Mars is described as 'the extraordinary story of the astronauts of the Mars Recovery Mission, the nearly insurmountable dangers that confront the heroic crew on their journey through space, and the amazing discovery they make when they finally reach Mars.' It is indeed an incredible journey. The crew members are looking for water, the basis of all life, nothing can live without water, but it's so dangerous. They need courage – and conviction – to overcome the perils.

  3. In one of the most dramatic moments of the film, three astronauts (two men and one woman) are drifting loose in space, stranded away from their space capsule. They are about to be dragged into the Martian atmosphere, which will burn them up in seconds. They are running out of power. The position has become impossible. 

    Out there in their spacesuits, with no one else to turn to, the three present an image of utter vulnerability and utter isolation. It's decision time. One man, Woody, makes the decision to allow himself to die in order to give the others a chance. His wife (one of the other astronauts) finds it impossible to accept: 'We will not leave you', she cries, but Woody has made his decision. There is no magic fix for him. His choice is to cast himself loose to certain death, knowing that his action may save the others. He does it freely, willingly. This is the man whose original aim was 'to stand in a new world and look beyond it  . . .  to the next one.'

  4. What is the point of it all? You'll have to watch the film yourself to see the ending. Perhaps we might imagine for a minute that we are those astronauts and we reach Mars safely. What sort of memorial might we want to raise to Woody who, his companions say, 'found another life'?

  5. What does all this have to do with a loaf of bread and some wine?

    Show the Communion items, if using.

    They are also memorials to someone who decided to do something that he did not want to do, something that made his friends desperately sad, but inspired and saved them.

    Christians use the symbols of bread and wine to remember and represent the fact that Jesus gave his life for them. The Last Supper was the time when he made it clear that he knew what he must do and showed his followers how to remember him, which they have been doing ever since. 

    Read the passage from Luke 22.14–20, if desired.

  6. Memories of and memorials to people who have died can make us sad, as we think about people we can no longer see and communicate with. They are also causes of joy, however. The Christian celebration based on the Last Supper is known as the Eucharist, meaning 'rejoicing together'. The astronauts were eventually able to be grateful to their friend who had chosen to give them life by sacrificing his own. Memorials are ways of saying, 'Thanks for the memory'.

Time for reflection

Let's remember the people who are important to us and think about friends who have done or given us something without asking for anything in return – not necessarily anything dramatic, but even small things can cost time, money, effort, involve thought.

Let's remember things that we have felt grateful for, the times that stick in our memory.

Let's hold all these in our consciousness for a moment  . . .

Now let us say a prayer, in our own silent words. 

Dear Lord,
Thanks for the memory . . . 


Title music from Mission to Mars, 2001: A Space Odyssey ora movement from Gustav Holst's The Planets suite

Publication date: April 2014   (Vol.16 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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