Tenebrae Service Explained


The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been practiced by the church since medieval times. Once a service for the monastic community, Tenebrae later became an important part of the worship of the common folk during Holy Week. We join Christians of many generations throughout the world in using the liturgy of Tenebrae. The purpose of this service is to remember the somber events that occurred in Jesus’ life from the exuberant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through the night of Jesus’ burial on Good Friday.


The most distinctive aspect of the service are the candles on display. The flames of these candles are extinguished one by one as Scripture readings are shared to tell the story of Holy Week. This gradual descent into darkness is a representation of Jesus’ increasing sorrow as the events of Passion Week unfolded. After the last verse is read, the last candle is put out and the room is plunged into darkness.

Once in darkness, a loud noise will be heard to represent the closing of Christ’s tomb. At this point, another lit candle, which has been hidden from view, will be placed on the table to remind us of the hope of Jesus’ resurrection.

Why a Tenebrae Service? 

The Tenebrae service may feel uncomfortable, perhaps even questionable to you. “Why be sad when we know God raised Jesus from the grave?” you might ask. And we answer, “Yes! Hallelujah! We will joyfully celebrate this Good News on Easter morning.”

But there is no Easter without Good Friday; no resurrection without a tomb; no tomb without the cross; no cross without suffering; and no suffering without our sin. The joyful grace we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday becomes more meaningful when we remember the great suffering and sacrifice Jesus endured for “the joy set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Our Approach to God

Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

People: Amen

Leader: Blessed be the name of the Lord our God,

People: who redeems us from sin and death.

Leader: For us and for our salvation, Christ became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

People: Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

The Lord’s Table

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Verse 1

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

Verse 2

Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand

Verse 3

Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

I Stand Amazed in the Presence

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And I wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.

How marvelous, how wonderful
And my song shall ever be.
How marvelous, how wonderful
Is my Savior’s love for me.

For me it was in the garden He prayed,
“Not my will, but thine”
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered and died alone.

The shadow of betrayal

Luke 22:39-46

The shadow of agony & arrest

Luke 22:47-53

The shadow of denial

Luke 22:54-62

O Lord, My Rock & My Redeemer

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Greatest treasure of my longing soul
My God, like You there is no other
True delight is found in You alone
Your grace, a well too deep to fathom
Your love exceeds the heavens’ reach
Your truth, a fount of perfect wisdom
My highest good and my unending need

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Strong defender of my weary heart
My sword to fight the cruel deceiver
And my shield against his hateful darts
My song when enemies surround me
My hope when tides of sorrow rise
My joy when trials are abounding
Your faithfulness, my refuge in the night

O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Gracious Savior of my ruined life
My guilt and cross laid on Your shoulders
In my place You suffered bled and died

The shadow of accusation

Luke 22:66 – 23:12

The shadow of mockery

Luke 23:13-25

The shadow of crucifixion

Luke 23:26-43

The shadow of death

Luke 23:44-46

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.

The shadow of burial

Luke 23:50-56


O Praise the Name

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet
My Saviour on that cursed tree

His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone

Thank you for joining us this evening.

**Please exit in silence as you think about what the death
of Christ means for you.**