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Thursday: Tenebrae

If you would like to celebrate the Service of Shadows at home, light seven candles and work your way through the readings, extinguishing a light after each one. Once in the darkness, sit for a while in it, then light one candle as a sign that we live in the assurance of resurrection hope and look forward to Sunday.

Welcome 

To find a body willing is hard. In the mall, I asked old women, young men, a few clerks – could I please wash your feet?

I held out a brand new bar of soap and a full blue plastic basin. The pink towel on my shoulder was clean.

As you might expect, some folks dismissed this as a ploy. A wide man wearing green suggested I kiss his wide green ass instead. His leather work boots squeaked against the tile as we each declined the other’s gesture.

It was a revelation just how many claimed their feet were plenty clean – tiny women in gossamer shoes; boys in sleek white Nikes; a cop’s polished black oxfords shone.

By the time I found someone, the water had grown cold. Yet he only winced a bit at the initial dip of his heel. Callused skin on the balls of his feet and a sharp nail on his big toe kept him from being a stranger.

After dabbing dry his skin, I handed him his socks. He knotted up his laces. He asked was it my turn now? But by then I had to run.

A liturgy for stones by David Wright 

Welcome, friends, to our service on shadows on this Thursday night in Holy Week. This is the time for us to be held in awkward tension between our humility and our selfishness, between life and death, between light and dark.

Welcome.
Welcome.
Welcome.

Candle 1: Humble worship 

I honestly don’t know what came over me. One moment I was sitting at the table listening to the serious conversation of the men about where they might be headed next. My sister, Martha, was setting out baskets of bread for which they reached absent-mindedly – their heads too full of plans and questions.

She caught my eye, smiled, and shook her head slightly in amusement and wonder at our brother, Lazarus, reclining alongside Jesus. It was not so long ago that our home was a place of weeping and wailing, yet here he was, returned to use from the dead and slowly putting on all the weight that his sickness had stolen from him.

My eyes welled up with tears. How unpredictable life is. How fragile. How precious. I excused myself quickly, not wanting anyone to see me overcome with emotion.

As I paced under the night sky I thought about how I could best give voice to the love and the gratitude that I was feeling.

I returned to the room that Martha and I shared and retrieved our greatest treasure – a simple alabaster jar filled with the most beautiful perfume. It was worth a small fortune and we were always getting into trouble for removing the stopper to breathe in the heavenly scent.

Yet, tonight, I knew within the deepest part of my being that there is no treasure more precious than life, than the present moment, and so I took the jar back to the supper table, knelt before Jesus, and poured each and every drop onto the feet that had travelled so far to teach and heal and touch people who were hurting as much as we had.

The smell that filled the room was even sweeter as all my love, all my joy, all my worship streamed from my heart and I wiped his feet with my hair.

Candle 2: Selfish ambitions 

Mark 14:4-11
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

In the silence, humble yourself before God and confess the ways in which you have put aside the Love and Life which Christ has made possible for selfish ambition, desire, and pleasure.

Candle 3: A humble meal

The night before his suffering and death, Jesus shared a final meal with his friends around the safety of a table in which he could speak some uncomfortable truths and prepare them for what lay head. While we cannot gather to share in this meal of remembrance, still we share in the love we have for each other and for our Lord Jesus Christ who said:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’

In that love, we are the body of Christ whose Spirit is with and within us.

So we remember the signs us of His presence and his promises to us.

A candle …

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life”.

A loaf of bread …

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. The bread that I shall give is myself for the life of the world”.

A cup of wine …

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Whenever we encounter this everyday ordinary elements in our households, let us remember that we are each part of the story of God’s sheltering love as he stills holds space for everyone at the table.

Jesus said: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

So may the peace of the Lord be with you.

Candle 4: Selfish needs 

Mark 14:32-50

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled.

In silence, open yourself up to how Jesus must have struggled with this journey. Stay within this sinkhole of agony for the next 5 minutes. Stay awake!

Candle 5: Humble silence 

I really have to stop wringing my hands in front of the servants. What would people think of the governor’s wife displaying such worry as the city fills in celebration of the Passover feast?

But I do worry! My heart is full of fear. No one really understands what it takes to stay in power in this world. There are always people plotting, scheming, playing games. One wrong move – and that’s it. We would be out of this comfortable residence, excluded from polite society, banished to a poor province, forgotten in our disgrace.

And this time of the year is the worst! Spirits are high. Foreigners flood the streets. Keeping the law is fraught with danger. Oh! And that barbaric custom of setting a prisoner free on the whims of the crowd – does no one even stop to consider what put them there in the first place!?!

Sometimes I get so anxious that my head feels like it will burst. Then I have to retreat to my chambers with lavender burning and a cool cloth over my eyes until the pain retreats or, if I’m lucky, I manage to find a few hours of sleep.

But sleep was no comfort at all today for I dreamed of a familiar face – a man I’ve seen talking to the crowds in the marketplace. Some say he’s a healer. Others a fraud. Those that we dine with regularly for the sake of appearances certainly don’t seem to like him. He’s gotten everyone all riled up. I mean, the other day, he came into the city riding on the back of a donkey with the common folk throwing their cloaks at his feet and pulling palm branches off the trees to wave in the air as they shouted. I think he’s going to mean trouble for us.

In my dream he stood before me, staring silently – eyes so full of love and sorrow, compassion and pain – that I could not look away. “Who are you?” I cried. “What do you want from me?” But he said nothing. I woke to a clamour of cries “Innocent! Innocent!” but there was no one else in the room.

And now, I can’t stop wringing my hands. Yet I must. I must stop this useless fretting and send a message to my husband warning him that if this man comes into his courts, we must wash our hands of him.

Candle 6: Selfish preservation

I never thought that my life would amount to much. I’m a fisherman. Just like my father. And my father before him.

Each one of my days was the same as the next – marked by the changing seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, simple acts of mending nets, and good natured competition with our friends about who would bring home the biggest catch.

Then I met a man who changed all that. He saw something in me that no one else did. He promised to change me from a fisherman to a fisher of men. I didn’t even know what that meant but I followed and, through his words and his way with people, I learned that God is nearer than we think and that we all have a part to play in his Kingdom.

I was proud when he changed my name from Simon to Peter and said that he would build his church upon me.

Yet, tonight, he was taken by force in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayed by one of us and I just can’t bear to stand beside him in the high priest’s house and find myself accused too, though we’ve done nothing wrong. But I can’t bring myself to leave either.

I want to be the man that he saw when he called me but he warned us that the cost of following him might be laying down our life – and, now that it comes to it, I’m not ready.

Twice already I’ve been asked whether or not I am one of his followers. Twice I’ve lied, denied any knowledge of him, and I hate myself for it.

Next time, yes, the next time I’m asked, I’ll stand up for truth. I’ll be the Rock. I’ll risk my life, my future for him the same way as he took a chance of me. Next time ….

Candle 7: A humble end 

Mark 15:16-32

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

***

God is light, 
in whom there is no darkness at all.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. 
And this is the judgement,
that the light has come into the world,
and we loved darkness rather than light.

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