As we come to the end of Lent this week, we begin a journey which accompanies Jesus into the dark shadows of His last hours on earth. It’s a journey we take to better understand why Jesus did what He did and remember God is always with us. We can enhance this journey by attending our Tenebrae Service on the evening of Good Friday.
Just what is a Tenebrae Service? The word “Tenebrae” is Latin for “shadows.” The purpose of the Tenebrae is to recreate the emotions felt by the Apostles and Jesus’ followers as they dine with Him at the Passover, see Him arrested and beaten for a crime He didn’t commit, watch Him die a brutal death at the hands of a Roman crucifixion, and stand in stunned silence as He is laid in a tomb. Making this journey as a disciple of Jesus on that first Good Friday would not have been a happy event. Many fell into despair and hid in fear for their own safety. Some wandered in a state of shock and disbelief. Others grew angry at what they did to Him. The Tenebrae Service is designed to help us experience all of these same emotions as we walk with Jesus during His final hours.
There are no hard and fast rules for a Tenebrae Service. Our service is adapted from the Jesuit Institute as a solemn liturgy occurring only in candlelight. There is no music until the very end when the choir sings “Were You There” a cappella as we leave the church. There are 7 readings, 6 from the Gospel Passion Stories and 1 from Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant. Each reading is followed by a short prayer, then the candles are extinguished until only one candle remains lit. This last candle represents Jesus. At the end of the last reading, the final candle is extinguished and the sound of the stone being dragged across the tomb entrance can be heard. With the tomb closed, we are left in total darkness to reflect on the devastation we would have felt after Jesus was suddenly and violently taken from our life. The service ends, a few small lights are turned on to find our way out, and we travel home in silence contemplating what just happened. The purpose of a Tenebrae is to powerfully recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and the agony of the evening. It is left unfinished, because the story is not over until Easter Day.
If you are looking to journey through the Passion of Jesus Christ like never before, please consider coming to the Tenebrae on Good Friday, 8pm, at St Mary on the Lake. It will be a Holy Week experience you will never forget.
P.S. Bring a friend. All are invited!