Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Exactly is Maundy Thursday?

Today is Maundy Thursday.  Our church will have a tenebrae service tonight and for the first time in forever I will not be there.  The word ‘tenebrae’ is  from Latin and it means shadows. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion story, so this is not supposed to be a happy service, because the occasion is not happy. If your expectation of Christian worship is that it should always be happy and exhilarating, you won’t appreciate this service until the second time you attend it.  I know I didn't.  The first time I went to one I left very disturbed.  I studied tenebrae during the next year and was ready for it the second time.  The service was originally designed for Good Friday, but it is used for Maundy Thursday in many churches. This servics has long scripture narratives, which for this service are divided into seven, eight, or nine parts, each one assigned to a different reader.  I love hearing the reading of the scripture....the Word of God for the people of God....praise be to God I say.  I don't believe we hear the word read straight from the source enough today.  But I am digressing...This  service may include other parts, such as solemn hymns, a sermon, and Communion(on Thursday, before his death - Jesus and the disciples shared the last supper and he washed their feet), but the core of the Tenebrae service works like this: It starts out with the church in candlelight. There are as many candles as there are readings, plus a white Christ candle. The readers go up one at a time, read their assigned selections, and extinguish one of the candles, until only the Christ candle remains. Then someone reads the first part of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the cross. Then the Christ candle is put out, leaving the congregation in near total darkness—and near total devastation. At this point, the service ends. There is no benediction and the people leave in silence. (The lights are turned up but remain dim so that people can see their way out.)  There are other variations to this service.  My very first one was electrifying.  The pastor and the readers washed each others feet...and then moved into the congregation.  They washed one persons feet...and then that person washed the person sitting next to was very humbling.  The lady whose feet I washed cried as I took her shoes off...washed her feet...and put her shoes back on.  She did not see me....but I was crying too. The purpose of the service is to recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and agony of the events, and it is left unfinished, because the story isn’t over until Easter Day.  Wow!  I don't know about you....but this makes me excited about being an Easter person. 


Mary said...

I had tears in my eyes reading your post. What an awesome service!

Mid-Atlantic Martha said...

Karen -- you're so right about this service -- I think you can only truly experience the joy of Easter Sunday, when you've also experienced the sorrow of Holy week. Thanks for a wonderful post.