There’s No Point In Doing It

“There’s no point in doing a Tenebrae service that no-one comes to,” said Dean Elhard, who leads our worship music.

For the last several years, Emmanuel Church has held a service of Carols and Lessons in the Christmas Seasons. It’s a service that takes its structure entirely from Scripture, proclaiming the Word of God directly from the Bible, and following each reading offering a carol, letting music guide our hearts into meditation on the passage we have just read. For many members of our fellowship it’s a deeply moving service, and for Pastors in years past it has meant a week off to enjoy Christmas with family without having to prepare a sermon or even — if they choose — being present for worship. The benefits of such a service are enough to have raised the question, can we do such a service at other times?

Obviously, we cannot do Carols and Lessons when it’s not Christmas. But there are plenty of well-loved hymns and worship-songs that could flesh out a similar service at Lent or Easter. In fact, since the ninth century it’s been the tradition in monasteries to have just such a service, combining the lessons from the Lauds and Matins service and alternating the lessons with sung or chanted psalms, on the Eves — that is, on the evening before — the “Triduum”: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Over the centuries, this service has gained the Latin name “Tenebrae”, which means “darkness”; and has become a single service instead of being spread over three nights. Since Thursday night and Friday already have other observances, Tenebrae is often held on Maundy Eve, that is, on the last Wednesday night before Easter. It’s a moving service, with fifteen candles being snuffed out one by one as the lessons are read and hymns are sung, until the last light is hidden and a crashing sound is heard, and the Light of Christ, symbolized by a single candle, is returned to the altar. But Dean is quite right that few of our fellowship are eager to come to church on a Wednesday night.

The other option, is to do as we do with Christmas, and hold Hymns and Lessons during the seven-week Easter cycle, with a celebratory mood rather than the penitential mood of Tenebrae. Originally planned for April 28, progress on our Pastoral Call has pre-empted it, and it will have to be rescheduled. As the worship team prepared two Easter Canticles for that service: Via Dolorosa and Beautiful Scandalous Night,  it’s to be hoped that it will be rescheduled soon. It will not, of course, feature candles being snuffed out in a descent into darkness ; but Dean, Anne and Rachel did agree to a dress rehearsal of the Easter Hymns-and-lessons music, complete with Lessons and candles being gradually extinguished, open to anyone from the congregation who would come. Although, Anne did her best immitation of Abraham bargaining with the Lord* and agreed to the plan ONLY if five people could be found who would attend the rehearsal. In the end, there were exactly five worshippers on Holy Wednesday, and the service was deeply moving. And after all, as long as only two or three of us are gathered together in His name, Christ is there in the midst of us.

If God wills and God’s people agree, perhaps we’ll do Tenebrae next Year.

* Genesis 18:16-33

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