Planning a Tenebrae Service–Part 1

If you haven’t yet planned your worship services for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, let me encourage to consider doing a Tenebrae Service.  Literally, a Tenebrae Service is a “service of shadows.”   The service takes it shape from the Gospel accounts of the last days of Jesus’ life.  As worshipers, we’re invited to journey with Jesus during his last hours on earth and to enter into the emotions and sorrow surrounding his death.  A Tenebrae Service is necessarily somber and reflective.  In many traditions, worshipers are encouraged to leave the service in silence as they reflect on the death of our Lord.

As I said, the Scriptures govern the structure of the Tenebrae Service.  In my mind, a Tenebrae Service is a close cousin to the Lessons and Carols Service – Scripture lesson followed by an appropriate carol.  A Tenebrae Service divides the Scriptural events into scenes, and the service progresses using a rhythm of revelation and response.  In other words, we begin with the Scriptural account and then respond to it appropriately with a song, prayer, or other type of element.

Here are the basic steps to planning a Tenebrae Service of your own.  If this is your first year planning a Tenebrae Service, keep it simple.  You can always be more creative next year!

Step Explanation
1.  Select a Gospel. I typically use one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), although I’m eager to plan a Tenebrae Service around John.  This year, I chose Mark.
2.  Divide the last few chapters of the Gospel into scenes. I think 8-10 scenes works well, and will allow for a 60-90 minute service easily.  Depending on the Gospel you choose, you’ll probably begin with Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus, or the foot washing.  The last scene will be Jesus’ death.
3.  Identify the topic and mood of each scene. Since the rhythm of the service is revelation (Scripture) and response (element), you’ll want to know what the Scripture says and the type of response it might elicit.

After you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready to begin building the service.  These first three steps help you determine what I call the skeleton of the service.

Stay tuned for Planning a Tenebrae Service – Part 2!

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