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    Tenebrae

    Thursday, April 18, 2019



    Tomorrow night I will attend a Tenebrae service. Tenebrae (Latin for “darkness”) is a Christian service celebrated on Good Friday. There is a candle stand on the altar with several candles lit; the room is dark except for the candlelight. During the service, there are several scripture readings and congregational hymns focusing on the Passion Week of Jesus Christ. Each candle is gradually put out as the night progresses on. When the concluding hymn is sung and the last scripture read, the final candle is extinguished - leaving the room in complete darkness. “It is finished.” Then strepitus (Latin for “great noise”), someone slams a door symbolizing the earthquake following the death of Jesus Christ. The congregation then rises and leaves in silence.
    The darkness.
    The strepitus.
    The silence.
    In that moment, I am Mary Magdalene, looking on from a distance at the cross (Matthew 27:55-56). Looking at the death of the man who had cast out my seven demons and given me a new life of freedom. But this Jesus came to save! He can’t die!
    I am one of the eleven disciples who ran at the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, looking for a room to be locked in and to hide in from the Jewish leaders (John 20:19). What did I do with the last few years of my life? I left my job, my family, my friends, my reputation for . . . this? Was Jesus who He really said He was? Did those things really happen? My whole world has been shaken.
    I am the centurion keeping watch over Jesus. I saw the earthquake and the manner of which Jesus died. “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:51)
    I am the high priest, robed in my self-righteousness, performing my religious rituals in the temple when the curtain of the temple was completely torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51). How can this be?! The Holy of Holies is exposed! God’s presence will overwhelm man’s sin!
    I am a weeping woman placing flowers on the grave of a recently lost loved one when several tombs around me suddenly broke open and the dead bodies inside were raised to life (Matthew 27:52). Am I seeing things!? I flee in terror.
    I am the wife of a former saint, passing through the town center in Jerusalem, when I saw the body of my once-dead-husband appear in the crowd (Matthew 27:53). Is this even possible? I know not whether to embrace him or to run away.
    Fear.
    Panic.
    Confusion.
    Sorrow.
    This service of darkness and silence puts me in the shoes of the followers and the non-followers of Jesus on that dark day in Golgotha: What just happened? I’ve always known the end of the story; I’ve always experienced Good Friday with the knowledge and hope of Sunday. But with Tenebrae, I taste of the ache that His followers felt. What questions and doubts flooded their hearts? How unbearable was the despair? Did they remember that He told them that they would see Him soon (“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” John 16:16)? How many times did Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to see the tomb (Matthew 28:1) before the stone was rolled away on the Sabbath?
    Oh the waiting and longing for what was promised! Will it ever come to be?
    Today, we know that Sunday is coming. But on Tenebrae night, I feel a deep aching - an intense longing - for the joyous celebration of an empty tomb.
    He has risen.
    He has risen indeed.

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