In helping lead the tenbrae service at my internship site last night, I was reminded that the service of darkness is my favorite service in the liturgical year. If you’re not familliar with a service like this, it usually takes place at night on Good Friday, before Easter, and it involves readings from the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. It usually utilizes candles, where, in the case of last night, each reader reads part of the crucifixion narrative and blows out their candle at the end. Lastly, the Christ candle is blown out, or covered, and a sharp sound is made, on a drum perhaps.

What I love about them is that there is a lot of darkness and silence, and this is a reversal of the norm in most worship services. Most sanctuaries are built so that they are full of light, and during worship they are full of sound almost constantly – speaking, instrumental music, singing, chanting, reading, preaching, prayers, etc. In this way, God is associated with light and sound.

I love reversals. I think they are particularly powerful as a means of expressing spiritual truths. Many of Jesus parables involve a reversal of some kind, and the Kingdom of God is always held up as a system of complete reversals – the last shall be first, the dead will live and the living will die, the poor will be rich and the rich poor, etc. I love the Tenebrae service because it is a reversal. It brings darkness and silence into worship.

I know that I an be pretty obtuse about a lot of things, but I’ve always looked for God in silence and darkness. When everything is light and sound, its easy to coast along, assuming God is there. But in the darkness, when the lights go out – that’s when you really learn something, when you truly have to grapple with who you are and who God is.

3 thoughts on “Tenebrae

  1. Those are all very thoughtful reasons to love tenebrae. Myself, I love a tenebrae service because I am a thespian. I love drama and symbolism – the more explicit and grand in scale the better. The darkness and the silence are great, to me, because they are pretty obvious heavy-handed ways of bringing home the message of Good Friday. For this same reason I love Easter Vigils and Paschal Feasts, Pounding nails into the cross in lent, or footwashing on Maundy Thursday. I would like a bonfire on Pentecost and complete immersion during baptism.For me make the rituals visceral, embodied and experiential. The more the better, generally.


  2. Tenebrae…Having experienced the ecstasy of being enveloped by the Holy Spirit enough to silence any charismatic, and also the despair of the dark night of the soul, I would say that faith is what you live by in the dark. The odd result is that I like the dark as much as the light. Its like being up just before sunrise. You can smell it coming, and even though it is pitch black it fills your lungs with joy.Jodie


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