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What is… a ‘Tenebrae’ Service?

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

From time to time, on Good Friday evening, we hold a Tenebrae service.

But what does that mean?

We deliberately meet as daylight fades as this seems to reflect the experience of the disciples during that week — they lose their leader, their vision, their hope.

They don’t know what to believe.

They don’t know whether they have been fools or heroes.

They don’t know what is going to happen next.

The service begins in light but, as John’s full account of Jesus’ last days on Earth is read, the light fades until the final reading comes in near darkness. The service will end in silence and gloom.

This is not a time for fellowship, but personal reflection — a time when we share a little in the doubt of the disciples and experience the gathering gloom of that first Good Friday.

We of course know what happens next: we know about Easter. But Tenebrae lets us remember a little of the first disciples’ experience.

Come as you are, and take the time to reflect.

Wikipedia describes the origins and history of Tenebrae, as well as how different denominations sometimes practice it. Under the Methodist entry it says this

Methodist practice of Tenebrae

In the Methodist tradition, fourteen candles, along with a central Christ candle, are lit on the Tenebrae hearse after the Opening Prayer. They are consequently extinguished after each of the Tenebrae lessons. Prior to the reading of the sixteenth lesson, the Christ candle on the Tenebrae hearse is extinguished and then the church bells are tolled. The sixteenth lesson is read in darkness, followed by the conclusion of the liturgy.

Eight candles burn, their flames casting light in the darkness which surrounds them.


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