The church that my husband and I attend is of Protestant denomination but on Good Friday we follow the liturgy of Tenebrae which was originally an Orthodox practice. It has become one of my favorite services and the reason is simply that each element is designed for reflection and at the end of this particular service, more than any other, I am truly considering what this celebration of Easter means.
Before the celebration there was death, there was sorrow, there was betrayal and all of this grief brings beauty and excitement to the fact that three days later there was light, life, and victory.
I think, as Christians, we are afraid of not showing our appreciation if we picture Christ on the cross. I remember, as a young girl, seeing Catholics wear a crucifix, Jesus on the cross, and those in Protestant denominations wearing a cross without Jesus on it. I questioned this and was told that we wear a cross without Christ on it because "He is not on the cross anymore." As a grown woman, I now think both are beautiful reminders. We miss out on something when we do not deeply reflect on the fact that he once was on the cross. It takes away from the victory that now Jesus is alive.
The service of Tenebrae means "shadow" both connoting a foreshadowing of his death as well as a weighty feeling. The scripture readings are done so in dim lighting lending a reflective spirit to the whole service. Each reading gives us opportunity to meditate on a portion of his suffering and to apply it to ourselves. The only lights beside those for reading are the 7 candles that are extinguished as each reading is finished. There is power in the silence after each reading. The following are the 7 shadows that we reflect on:
The Shadow of Betrayal (Matt. 26:20-25)
The Shadow of Desertion (Matt 26:30-35)
The Shadow of Unshared Vigil (Luke 22:39-46)
The Shadow of Accusation (Matt 26:47-75)
The Shadow of Crucifixion (Matt 27:1, 11-37)
The Shadow of Death (Luke 23:44-49)
The Shadow of the Tomb (John 19:38-42)
In most services that follow the Tenebrae liturgy, there is music in between the readings. At our church we take occasion to use various forms of art for reflection in between each reading. Members of the church have been invited to participate beforehand and paintings, storytelling, music, and poetry draw us in. Even as you enter the sanctuary there are sculptures, woodwork, photography, and drawings that have been set up to observe.
This year I wrote a poem, contemplating the Unshared Vigil when Jesus asks his disciples to pray with him as he prays the night before he is to die. As we all know, they fall asleep.
As a result of writing the poem I was able to think about why this story was so important to warrant reflection. Yes, it must have hurt Jesus for those who were closest to him to fall asleep in his time of deep anguish. However, I wondered what might it even say to us now? Why, besides the historical significance is this significant to us today? In the scriptures, we are told to "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15) We are told "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) Bearing another's burden is fulfilling the law of Christ! The disciples falling asleep reminds us that in this life we are called to be aware of other's needs. We are not to sleep while those around us suffer and fail to see some sort of physical sign of Christ's love. We all know Matthew 22:37-40: "Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” All of the law hangs on this!
One more passage for your reflection:
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
If we are not aware, we will not know how to serve. If we do not serve, humbly and practically (meeting physical needs), what good is our faith?
Share Thy Neighbor's Vigil
Let us be the toasty blanket
On cold shoulders.
The runner’s cool water.
A menthol rub on this world’s aching joints.
A new mother’s hands,
The kiss on a hurt knee.
And the knee is where we should be
Bent and humble
Shining our love up
Toward a downcast face.
Let us be the finger that lifts a chin
The applause for those ignored
The one who crowns the poor.
Ignorance is not bliss
Awareness is a sacred call
Holding safe and high
A neighbor’s candle
Is our command.
In the vigil of life
Let us not sleep.
-Emily Chumchal Andrews