Weeping may last for the night...

"Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning!" (Psalm 30:5b, NASB)

Thursday night I attended a Maundy Thursday service - which I have done multiple times in my life - but for some reason this year it really stood out to me. Really, the entire season of Lent and Holy Week has come to life for me in a new and fresh way. Perhaps it is because, in this season of my own life, I am acutely aware of my shortcomings, my failures, my sin, and my undeniable need for a Savior.

So, Thursday night’s service began as many do, with singing, and then a message - all meaningful - but then we practiced what I believe you would call Tenebrae. I admit, I had actually never ever heard of it before that I can recall, so I dug around online a bit to try and find out more…

“Tenebrae (Latin for 'shadows' or 'darkness') is a service celebrated by the Western Church on the eves of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which are the last three days of Holy Week. The liturgy of Tenebrae is characterized by the gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of readings and psalms are recited.”

“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.

There are obviously endless ways you could conduct your own Tenebrae service; you can easily find various examples online if you’re interested (i.e. http://www.kencollins.com/how-05.htm). For ours, when we began the service, the room was dark except for eight candles lit at the front of the sanctuary, one of which was the “Christ candle.” As we read the scripture from the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest in the Garden, going before the Jewish religious leaders, going before Pilate, the release of Barrabas, and Jesus’ torture…one by one each candle was extinguished, and the room grew darker and darker and darker…until only the Christ candle was left lit.

Then we began removing everything from the altar – the Bible, the candlesticks, the cross, the offering plates, even the alter cloth – and carried them out of the sanctuary, one by one, still reciting the scriptures, stripping the Church symbolicly bare of any signs of Christ. We waited in silence while each item was carried out.

When we got to the last scripture of the evening, finalizing Jesus’ death and burial, I was not prepared for how the next moment would affect me. The Christ candle was extinguished, and in both darkness and silence, the Christ candle was then carried out of the sanctuary. It was as though in that moment it truly hit me for the first time how it must have felt - to the disciples, His family, to all that loved Him and had followed Him - to have watched Jesus die on that cross and be buried in that tomb. The hopelessness, sorrow, despair, confusion, and shock must have been consuming, so overwhelming.

The Tenebrae service ended in silence and some stayed to pray a while. I sat there and tears poured down my cheeks. I truly felt like I was at the funeral of Jesus. In my own life, in a very practical sense, much seems hopeless and dark. I could so easily put myself in the shoes of someone like Peter, or John, or Mary Magdalene – who must have been thinking, “This is not the way this was supposed to go. It was supposed to be different than this. He was the Messiah. He was our King. He was supposed to save us. What do we do NOW, Lord?” How they must have mourned that night as they headed back to their homes.

Strangely, after I went home from the Tenebrae service the sky grew very dark, full of ominous looking clouds. Then began the wind, rain, hail, thunder, lightening – and I wondered for a moment if this was anything at all like that evening Jesus actually died.

In Luke 23:44-46 it reads:

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

They mourned all night, and mourned all day the next day, which was the Sabbath. What a dark day, that Saturday. Can you imagine how you would have felt? They didn’t have the privilege of knowing the end of the story in advance like we do, though Jesus did try to tell them in His own way! We can walk into Holy Week knowing that our "weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning!" (Psalm 30:5b, NASB)

So why was this year so much more meaningful for me? I can think of lots of reasons - and am certainly thanking the Lord that I feel His nearness in a time when hope is hard to find – but when I was reading about the Tenebrae service, I came across this quote, which I thought summed it up so well and so practically:

“If you see only the happy ending of a movie, everyone who saw it from the start is elated, but you go away saying, “So they were all hugging each other? So what?” But if you see the beginning and the middle part, with all the suspense and grief, you understand what the characters overcame, and the happy ending is all the happier. So to me, attending the Easter service without attending the Holy Week services is like watching the happy ending of the movie without seeing the middle—you only rob yourself of joy.” [2]

As I ready to head to bed tonight, though with a heavy heart full of my own concerns in this life, I still have peace and great hope in my heart, because I know the joy that awaits in the morning. God has already shown us that in the blink of an eye He can change an absolutely hopeless situation into an insurmountable victory.

God’s light pierced the darkness and Jesus was resurrected from the dead! He is alive and well today! Whatever you’re facing right now, God’s love is stronger than death itself. Just like Paul says in the well-known chapter, Romans 8 (this is The Message version):

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenebrae
[2] http://www.kencollins.com/question-39.htm