Every year on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday of Holy Week), the church I grew up in held a Tenebrae service. We would gather in a circle in one member’s unfinished basement by candle-light, read the Bible passages leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, sing some hymns in minor keys, and celebrate communion and foot washing. After each Bible passage was read, the reader would extinguish a candle; at the start of the evening, we could easily read by the light of the candles, but by the end, all but the youngest eyes needed a flashlight by which to read.
This service was, for me, one of the high-points of the church year. Not that it was a joyous occasion (it was not), but that it made me feel very connected to the church and to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I felt connected to a community of believers stretching back 2000 years, as we took communion and washed each others’ feet in remembrance of the Last Supper. For whatever reason, this was the one time per year when unbaptized people were permitted to take communion — and this was very special to me, especially before my baptism.
Having felt the hopeless emptiness of Jesus’ death, I was able to appreciate the joy (the relief, even) of Easter at a much different level. A topic that has come up repeatedly at Dinner with the Chaplain, Fermented Faith, and in the Ministry Centre, is whether suffering is necessary for joy. While the general consensus is that we’d take the joy without the sorrow if we could, my experience with celebrating Easter makes me realize that we experience joy very differently when we have experienced sorrow — although it can be hard to move from sorrow to joy (which is, perhaps, why the season of Easter is 50 days, longer even than the 40 days of Lent), there is also a greater depth to that joy.
I encourage you, this Holy Week, to experience the deep grief of Jesus death, to feel the pain and emptiness of having lost a great leader, teacher, and friend, that you may approach Easter with a new appreciation for the relief, the joy and gladness, which comes with the passing of this nightmare.
St. Bede’s is holding a Maundy Thursday service with communion and foot washing at 7pm tonight, March 28th, and a Good Friday service with the stations of the cross and Tenebrae influences tomorrow, March 29th, at 11am. We are also going on a field trip to St. John’s Ancaster for the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night; if you would like to join us and need transportation, please contact Megan ASAP. As usual, there will be communion at 10:30 on Sunday.