Post Lucem, Tenebrae

Tonight at River Oaks Church we celebrated Good Friday with a “reverse” tenebrae service (of sorts).

In prior years we have done tenebrae-like services, in particular focusing on what are often denoted the “Last Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross.” In such services, the lights get dimmer and dimmer until they are completely dark.

The idea behind this is to enable the worshiper to feel afresh the weight of the death of Jesus. On most Sundays, corporate worship is intended (rightly) to be a joyful thing. But on Good Friday, Jesus died, and it is refreshing to worship somberly and to reflect deeply the gravity of what happened. To experience it as more than just a doctrine, but somehow to recapture the sense tragedy.

We wanted to preserve that impulse but invert it just a bit with our Good Friday service this year. The shocking trauma of the crucifixion of Jesus was not, strictly speaking, how it gradually got darker. Rather, the real magnitude of what happened is that the light came into the world with magnificent brightness—but was tragically snuffed out. Post lucem, tenebrae. After light, darkness.

We put together as progression of readings from across the Scriptures to portray how this played out from pre-creation to the cross. Primordial darkness…the Son and the Father creating light…the fall of mankind…the promise of a “seed” to conquer evil…the promise to Abraham of a “seed” to inherit the world…the crystallization of this “seed” in the promise of kingship to Judah and a royal “Son”…the coming of this light into the world in Bethlehem with the birth of Jesus…his ministry and proclamation that he is the light of the whole world and the true “Son”…the tragic turn with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus…darkness over the face of the earth…and Jesus’ cry of dereliction to the Father before he breathed his last. In between these readings we sang songs that tracked along with the OT-NT themes, and the lights in the sanctuary got progressively brighter until they were full for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Then…darkness. Eli eli lema sabachthani. And we exited in silence.

It was a good and intentionally serious time together.

It was also enjoyable to put together the readings in such a way as to “stitch” together the story of Jesus from all of Scripture in a (hopefully) seamless way. Kudos to Gwen for splendid song choices and Olivia and Tanner for excellent musical accompaniment. And kudos to Rob on the A/V for pulling off the complex lighting sequences.

For those interested, the readings can be found here. A less-than-ideal audio file can also be found here; unfortunately you had to be there to experience the lighting etc.!


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