We don’t much enjoy shadows in our world today, and perhaps even less so in the Church. When darkness becomes visible, we try to batter it away and shine all the brighter, hoping that we won’t have to face what the darkness might reveal. Take the current economic crisis for example. We all long to put it behind us and return to life as normal. I see relatively few people taking the time to examine this darkness and learn what it seeks to teach us about economic equity and justice – but that is a topic for a whole different article.
This is why I really like Tenebrae – the Service of the Shadows. In my church it is held every year on the Thursday of Holy Week, the night before Good Friday. It is a time when we explore the shadows that encroached on Jesus in his last hours and ultimately took his life. As we reflect, through gentle song and thoughtful Scripture reading, on the people around Jesus and their response to what was happening, we see our own darkness in them. We recognize that, like Peter, we too easily deny Jesus; like Judas, we too have a price for which we will betray him. We see our own cowardice and self-righteousness, and our own Pharisaical need to control and condemn. We see our own grief in the eyes of Jesus’ mother, and our own despair when death and evil seem to triumph.
I need this service. I believe we all do, because it enables us to do the work of facing our shadows, and until we do this, we cannot be delivered from them. The first step to salvation is admitting that I am sinner. The first step into the light is acknowledging my own shadows.
As an attempt to do this work well, I wrote a dramatized version of the Tenebrae service some years ago. Instead of the traditional readings, this drama uses a series of monologues, spoken by some of the people who went through this dark journey with Jesus – Peter, Judas, Mary, and others – to explore and face the shadows. It has been used many times, by many churches and groups around the world, and has been found to be a helpful and meaningful way to journey, in worship, into the depth of Jesus’ suffering, and to face the sin darkness which lives in each of us and drove him to his death.
If you’re looking for a way to make this Easter a deeper, more healing and restorative time, take a look at Facing the Shadows – A Tenebrae Drama. This link will take you to a page of resources for Holy Week and Easter (Scroll down to the bottom to find the link to a .pdf of the script).