TENEBRAE – Service of Shadows

This article is from Issue 11 of “On The Move,” a publication of new learning possibilities for churches, at one time published by The Joint Board of Christian Education of Australia and New Zealand.
Although some ideas and liturgies may appear somewhat “dated” in style, concept, imagery or language, they may nevertheless offer a spring-board for new ideas among people who find themselves leading worship, perhaps in a new context, and with some trepidation.
Reproduced by permission. May be reprinted for use in local congregations only.

Plan an evening service for use during Holy Week (e.g., Maundy Thursday or Palm Sunday); use the following framework to build your service:

a. Seven candles in a row are lit. If you used Advent Candles at Christmas, use the centre Christ Candle to light them.

b. Sing a suitable hymn, such as “Were you there?”

c. Introduce the ceremony, explaining that it dates back to the fourth century. Lord, have mercy upon us (in Greek, Kyrie Eleison) is one of the very old responsive Christian prayers. Say that the service will focus on shadows falling on Jesus in the last hours of his life.

d. Turn out the lights. Seven readers move into place behind the candles.

e. The seven stories from Scripture are read, with titles given. The minister could serve as reader, but it is preferable to have the whole ceremony done by congregational leaders or lay people. Use seven readers or just two alternating. They should use little torches.

f. After each story, the reader extinguishes one candle, saying the title (“The Shadow of Accusation” etc.), then leading the congregation in saying the “Kyrie” – “Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord, have mercy.”

g. After all seven candles are out and only the Christ Candle is burning, the minister slowly and deliberately extinguishes the Christ Candle, saying “It is finished.”

h. A chime rings slowly 33 times, for the years of Jesus’ life.

i. A doorway light is put on for people to leave in silence.

Let all be silent, except for the reading and the “Kyrie.”
Practice with the leaders/readers carefully, since all is done in near darkness.

Let the extinguishing of candles be visible to all, done from behind.
To aid the gathering enter into the starkness of the service, printed material should be limited to the readers.

Here are the narratives and their titles. (Abbreviate these as you see fit.)
1. THE SHADOW OF BETRAYAL. Matthew 26:20-25


3. THE SHADOW OF LONELINESS. Matthew 26:40-45

4. THE SHADOW OF DESERTION. Matthew 26:47-50, 55-56

5. THE SHADOW OF ACCUSATION. Matthew 26: 59-67

6. THE SHADOW OF MOCKERY. Mark 15:12-20

7. THE SHADOW OF DEATH. Luke 23:33-46

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