Saturday, April 11, 2009

Meditations on Tenebrae, Lent, and Holy Week

This year, I was really struck by Maundy Thursday. Perhaps it was less Maundy Thursday and more a service of Tenebrae, a latin word for "darkness," and a liturgical time of extinguishing candles (sometimes extended over the last three days of Holy Week, which is the three days before Easter ... Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday).

At Shelby Presbyterian, our Tenebrae began with a prelude by Bach, "O Man, Bewail Thy Grievous Sin." Because Bach and Mozart are both classical artists, I was reminded (in later reflection, more than during the service) of the postlude for our Stations of the Cross service the previous night, a piece from Mozart's famous Requiem Mass, the Lacrimosa.

Liturgically, a Requiem Mass is a service for the dead and composers set the service to music. The Lacrimosa can be translated as follows (according to wikipedia), I'll include the Latin to the right:
Tearful that day, Lacrimosa dies illa
on which will rise from ashes qua resurget ex favilla
guilty man for judgment. judicandus homo reus.
So have mercy, O Lord, on this man. Huic ergo parce, Deus
Compassionate Lord Jesus, Pie Jesu Domine,
grant them rest. Amen. Dona eis requiem. Amen.
For me, our service began as confession, as humbling. I recognized and mourn(ed) my sins and the sins of those present and not present. It is, after all, Lent.

Following the prelude, there was a prayer and a song of praise, "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" and a responsive reading of praise from scripture (Mark 11:1, 4, 7-10).

Then, the darkness began. The rest of the service was broken into stages of darkness, metaphorically and literally. The first was the darkness of misunderstanding and expressed through a responsive reading of pieces of John and Mark. After the reading, a candle was extinguished and the lights dimmed. The darkness of misunderstanding gave way to the darkness of betrayal in Matthew 26:20-28, a betrayal that may not have been seen as betrayal until it was too late. Not just the betrayal of Judas, though, but also the betrayals we daily enact to God, each other, and creation. Another candle extinguished, the lights dimmed again.

And amidst the darkness of betrayal, but after the dimming, we continued with the reading from Matthew that led us to communion, singing "Let us break bread together on our knees."

We moved into the darkness of temptation, but not the temptation where Satan takes Jesus into the wilderness. This temptation was the temptation of freedom, of peace, and of comfort. It was the temptation where Jesus prays for God to save him from crucifixion and where Jesus' disciples sleep instead of pray. We read Matthew 26:30-31, 36-46. We, too, are tempted to lounge instead of pray and to escape any sort of persecution, any sort of death to sin and self, any sort of cross, running instead to freedom, peace, and comfort. Another candle extinguished, the lights further dimmed.

Jesus resisted this temptation, which means we can, too. And when he did and when we do, we move into the darkness of injustice at Jesus' trials of condemnation by humanity, by us. Another candle. Less light. "Go to Dark Gethsemane": learn from Jesus Christ to die.

If we make it as far as the darkness of injustice individually or corporately, we will face another temptation, one to which Peter succumbed in the courtyard of Mark 14:66-72: the darkness of denial. Although this darkness was a hard one to experience, a hard candle to extinguish, it was the next that made my voice quiver.

We read the following, a selection from Luke 23:13-24. The parts in bold were read by the congregation:
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders and the people, and said to them,
"You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will, therefore, have him flogged and release him."
Then they all shouted together, "Away with this fellow!"
"Release Barabbas for us!"
"Crucify him!"
"Crucify him!"
And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.
The sixth candle was extinguished. The lights were completely off. The only light remaining was the dull, natural light from the cloudy evening and the light from the Christ candle. We sang, "Were You There?" and the sanctuary was stripped of all decorations. The purple lenten cloths were removed. The candles were removed. The Bible was removed. We even removed the table cloth where the sacraments sat. I have been at some churches that not only strip the church, but also cover it in black. The church entered a time of mourning as we entered the last darkness, the darkness of crucifixion, a darkness and a mourning that will last until that great morning.

After reading from some words on the cross, the Christ candle, too, was extinguished, alluding to Jesus' death. As we sat in silence, darkness, thought, and emotion, one of the pastors took a match and in expectation of Easter, re-lit the Christ candle during the Benediction. We mourn, but not like the rest of the world, because we expect that resurrection.

We exited in meditative silence, by the dull, natural light of a cloudy evening and the light of Christ. In my meditation, I decided to add a line to a poem I wrote, a poem that has frequented my blogs, and one I would like to further explain in the near future.



No comments:

Post a Comment