Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good Friday--Tenebrae at Bethany

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church year.  I also happen to think it is one of the most emotionally powerful services in the Church year.  It is the day when, more than any other, we are given a chance to reflect on the idea that God would become human and die for us to save us from our sins. This fact is such a basic part of our faith that sometimes it's easy to lose track of how much meaning is there.  On Good Friday, the worship service gives us a chance in a special way to unpack it all: to mourn for our Savior's death and for the sin in the world for which he died, but also to celebrate the fact that on the cross, Jesus accomplished his mission of saving us all.  We will be following a worship service known as Tenebrae (from the Latin for "shadows").  Here are some things you will notice that are different from usual.

1. Gradual Extinguishing of Candles: The service plays up the difference between the Light of the World (Jesus Christ) and the coming darkness of his death.  As we work our way through our readings, which include selections from the Psalter, Lamentations, and Hebrews, as well as most centrally, the Passion narrative from the Gospel of John, we will gradually extinguish candles and turn down the lights.  This practice always helps me to follow the story by engaging my sense of sight and not just hearing.  

2. No Celebration of Holy Communion: This seems an odd practice (after-all, Good Friday is the day on which Jesus gave his body and blood), but it relates to the ancient understanding of the Triduum (English: "3 days"), which sees Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil as being part of the same liturgy in which we commemorate Jesus's death and resurrection.  Good Friday, then, is a continuation of the Holy Communion liturgy started on Maundy Thursday.

3. No Paraments/Vestments: On Maundy Thursday, we stripped the altar.  It will stay stripped Good Friday and until we work our way through the Easter Sunrise service.  In addition, you will notice that Pr. Laura will not wear a stole or chasuble.  This is the only time in the Church year when you will see no paraments or vestments.  Without the colors or decorations, it keeps Good Friday simple and as a time of reflection on Jesus's saving death on the cross.  

4. Music: One thing you will notice is the lack of congregational singing.  At the end, we will hear the anthem "Were You There When they Crucified My Lord?" to meditate for one final time in the evening on the death of Jesus.  For the most part, however, hymns have been replaced with the reading of Psalms and congregational responses to express the penitential character of the worship service.

5. Strepitus: The first time I attended a Tenebrae service, I was terrified when I heard the Strepitus at the end--because I had absolutely no idea it was coming.  Well, here is your fair warning!  The strepitus (Latin: "loud noise;" see, these Latin words are always simpler than they sound!) is the signal for the end of the service.  A worship leader will close a book together loudly to simulate the sounds of the earthquake at the death of Jesus Christ.  Afterward, we will depart in silence.

I hope you will join us at Bethany for Good Friday as we take a little while to remember together the cost of Jesus's love for us.

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