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Tenebrae Service

(Important notes to be included in the bulletin)

The service of worship tonight is taken from an early Christian service called Tenebrae. The name Tenebrae is the Latin word for "darkness" or "shadows." Tonight we will experience only a small portion of Christ’s pain and suffering the day of His crucifixion. One of the most conspicuous features of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. As it gets darker and darker we can reflect on the great emotional and physical pain that was very real for Jesus that evening. Toward the end of the service, the Christ candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil over good. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of his death (Matthew 27) and his resurrection (Matthew 28:2). At the moment of the earthquake, the temple veil was torn apart, making the Holy of Holies exposed to public view. This is understood to represent God's change toward us with direct access to him, no longer requiring the ceremonial acts of the priests for our forgiveness of sin.  The hidden candle is then restored to its place, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. By this single light we all depart this service in silence.

Our Gathering

(Side and altar lights are off. Church is dark. Two ceiling lights are very dim and are turned out at the point of reading of the Matthew passage.)

Leader: Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.

People: His mercy endures forever.

Leader: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Leader: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into this world, and we loved darkness rather than light.

People: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.

Leader: For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

People: Every one that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light. But all who do what is true come to the light.

Leader: Come, let us worship in sprit and truth.

The Passion of our Lord

Leader: The Lord be with you

People: And also with you.

Silent Prayer: Most gracious God, look with mercy upon your family gathered here for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, given into sinful hands, and suffered death upon the cross. Strengthen our faith and forgive our betrayals as we enter the way of His passion; through Him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen

(all lights except the candles will be turned off)

Matthew 26:30-46

First candle is extinguished

Matthew 26:47-56

Second candle is extinguished

Matthew 26:57-75

Third candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:1-5

Forth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:6-23

Fifth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:24-31

Sixth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:32-44

Seventh candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:45-50

Christ candle is hidden

(percussionist symbolizes the agony of Jesus’ death and the earthquake)

Matthew 27:51-54

Christ candle is returned

Song of the Suffering Servant

Isaiah 53:4-9

Dismissal Blessing:

Go in peace. May Jesus Christ, who for our sake became obedient unto death, even death on the cross, keep you and strengthen you this night and forever more. Amen.

Please depart from the service tonight in silence.



You will need:

1) seven candles located in the alter area plus an additional Christ candle (eight candles total). The Christ candle and possibly one or two others should be next to the lectern to permit sufficient light for reading of the scriptures.

2) one candle snuffer

3) one very faint flashlight for reader to use for reading Matthew 27:51-54 when all candles are out.

4) Carefully marked New Testament at the lectern for each of the readers to use.

5) Percussionist with timpani and cymbals in the back of the church, used at the point of Jesus’ death. After the Christ candle has been silently and slowly carried from the altar down the center isle of the church out of the worship space total darkness remains. After about 10 seconds of total darkness and silence, the percussionist will start a quiet roll on the timpani which will build in intensity and then decrease again two or three times, each time getting stronger and stronger. It will then slowly and quietly reduce to silence after several small buildups. Immediately there will be one large crash of the cymbals. The sound should die to a deafening silence. After about 15 seconds of silence (darkness continues) the person will return to the worship space with the Christ candle still lit and place it back in the stand and then sit down. The next scripture is then read.

6) In rotation of years the passion can be read from other gospels. The following are suggestions of possible readings.

There are many variations of this service of Tenebrae. This particular example does not employ any music. This might be a bit unusual in some churches. You might consider experiencing it in this form. There are many examples that do include music. There are even musical productions written to be performed by choir and congregation on the theme of Tenebrae.

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