Thursday, March 20, 2008


Tonight we had our Tenebrae (shadows) service for Maundy Thursday. The service is a quiet reflective time and is composed of an opening reading of John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples' feet and the new commandment to love), confession, communion, the greeting of peace, a few hymns and then a series of seven readings that move through the descending 'shadows' into which Jesus walked following his last supper: the shadow of betrayal (Matthew 26.20-25), the shadow of inner agony (Luke 22.39-44), the shadow of loneliness (Matthew 26.40-45), the shadow of desertion (Matthew 26.47-50, 55-56), the shadow of accusation (Matthew 26.59-67), the shadow of mockery (Mark 15. 12-20), the shadow of death (Luke 23.33-46). The space is lit by eight candles, and at the end of each of the readings, one is extinguished. With one candle remaining, a solo reflection is sung ("Come see the beauty of the Lord"). The service ends with a final reading of John 1.1-4:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.
The final candle is then extinguished and we end in silence and darkness, waiting and walking out alone: the light of the world slain.This afternoon, I also met with an Orthodox friend with whom I read the scriptures. I gave him a Bible for Easter (since he only had a New Testament, in an old translation; his English is good but not excellent). Unexpectedly, he also gave me a present: Services of Holy Week by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand. This 415-page tome contains the liturgy and readings simply for one week's worth of services (admittedly, not just any week!) and is a rich source of theological reflections and expressions of faith and hope. Jessica and I read through the service for the evening of Holy Thursday (much longer than our Tenebrae service!), and here are a few of the many highlights:
Today* he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree. The king of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He, who wrapped the heavens in clouds, is wrapped with the purple of mockey.
Because of a tree, Adam was estranged from Paradise. Because of the wood of the cross, the thief abode in Paradise. For the former, in tasting, disobeyed the commandment of the Creator; but the latter, who was crucified with You, confessed, admitting to You, the concealed God. O Saviour; remember also us, in your kingdom.
Your life-bearing side, O Christ, overflows like a spring from Eden, watering your Church and making it a living Paradise; then dividing the glad tidings into four Gospels, as headwaters, it irrigates the world, gladdening creation, and teaching the Gentiles to adore your kingdom in faith.
All creation, O Christ, beholding your crucifixion, trembled. The foundations of the earth were shaken for dread of your might; the lights of the firmament went into hiding; the veil of the temple was rent; the mountains quaked; and the rocks burst asunder, as the believing thief cries out with us to You: "O Saviour, remember us!"
Every member of your holy body endured dishonour for us. Your head, the thorns; your face, the spittings; your cheeks, the smitings; your mouth, the taste of vinegar mixed with gall; your ears, the impious blasphemies; your back, the lash; your hand, the reed; your whole body, stretched out on the cross; your joints, the nails; and your side, the spear. O Almighty Saviour, who in your mercy condescended to suffer for us, and set us free from suffering, having raised us up, have mercy on us.
*Unlike how most westerners mark time, this liturgy assumes that a day ends (and so begins) at sunset, so this service is actually the start of Holy (or Good) Friday.
Twelve points for guessing why this picture is inappropriate for a post on a Tenebrae service.


Megan said...

at a previous church where I was pastor, we had a tenabrae service - I love them. The Orthodox liturgy is meaningful - liturgy is an area where we can borrow from each other to great benefit.

h. goldsmith said...

Our Maundy Thursday service always ends with the stripping of the altar - all the liturgical vessels and implements (paten, chalice, candles, etc, etc) are carried out in silence by the clergy and acolytes. The last thing to be removed is the white cloth on the altar, and then the service is over. It's powerful and abrupt and shocking, as it ought to be. I love it.

sair said...

Having just read Gordon’s comment on a more recent post saying that he’s a bit anti-Easter, I would have to say that I am currently more ‘pro-Easter’ than I have ever been… I went to my first ever Tenebrae service this year and I found it a really enlightening and moving service. This was not that I heard things I hadn’t heard before or that I was moved to tears… but just that the whole ‘vibe’ of the service was conducive to contemplation, and the arrangement of readings with the extinguishing of the candles was a powerful illustration. The church was lit only very dimly during the service, with the candles at the front as Byron described. During the service I realised for the first time, I think, the appropriateness of the dimness for the contemplation of the last day of Jesus’ life before crucifixion. It is far from a ‘light’ time. I did then think, during the readings, that the crucifixion happened during the day and wondered about my thought that the darkness seemed appropriate, until I realised that (as the Orthodox liturgy puts it) even "the lights of the firmament went into hiding" following the Christ’s death. This idea of darkness was then made visible with the final reading ending with ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all people’ and the final candle being extinguished, leaving the congregation in darkness…

This one service, though, is not the reason why I am more into Easter than I ever have been. I think it is due to the greater emphasis that has been placed on it by people around me this year. This has been both through the reminders from the church calendar that have been more prominent that I have experienced before, as well as the conversations and other interactions with people that I have shared in this year (such as the Easter Sunday greeting of “Christ is risen… He is risen indeed” and various conversations on the events and significance of the ‘Easter story'). So, due to the greater weight given to the Easter season by those around me, I have found it to be more important to me than it has been before. Therefore it is sad to hear that people who wouldn’t want (I assume) to diminish the meaningfulness of the death and resurrection of Jesus, are so keen to take the emphasis off the Easter weekend as a special time of contemplation and reflection of that very event and its significance for our lives and our world.

byron smith said...

Yeah, I'm really getting into the idea of using the different parts of the year to reflect on different movements of the gospel, as I recently discussed in the comments to this post. Glad you've been finding it encouraging and stimulating too.

Jonathan said...

It was taken on Easter Sunday?

h. goldsmith said...

depends on which picture. the upper looks like an altered photo of a sunrise. the lower looks like a sculpture of the last supper, which would be appropriate - but maybe it's of something else.

byron smith said...

Jonathan - creative idea. I'll give you three for it.

H. Goldsmith - oops, I should have specified the top picture. And yes, it was one of my few sunrise pics before I did a little modification. Twelve points.