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A service of Tenebrae

A service suitable for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday

Tenebrae is a quiet prelude to Easter Day which helps us identify with the darkness and loss felt by Jesus’ followers as they experienced his death. Traditionally held on Maundy Thursday evening, it is just as appropriate on Good Friday morning or afternoon.

Some have suggested that this ancient tradition takes us with Jesus as he descends into Sheol to deliver the captives. It also parallels the Exodus when Moses freed the slaves in Egypt.


  • Cover all visible fixtures like lectern and pulpit with purple cloth.
  • On a table at the front place 13 candles, six on each side of a larger candle, to represent Jesus surrounded by the 12 disciples. Light all the candles before the congregation arrives and play quiet music. Make sure the candles can be extinguished without burning anyone.
  • Distribute the readings carefully amongst the participants. A simplified version is available in Roots Children and Young People. Make sure your readers can gauge at least one minute’s silence between each reading.
  • After each reading, extinguish one of the `disciple’ candles. The reader says, ‘The light grows dim’ and the congregation responds The darkness deepens.
  • At the end, leave the Christ light burning to represent Jesus, the light of the world which cannot be overcome by darkness.
  • If worship space permits, move to different parts of the church for the
    four sections. Arrange a display for each. Allow time for everyone on arrival to look at the displays, write, draw or add their comments before the service begins.

Part one: the Last Supper and the Mount of Olives
Display a cup, bread, wine and an open prayer book. If your church has a book for requests for intercession, make this available. Invite people to add prayers for those in need, going through difficult times, needing to find peace or coming to terms with losing a loved one.

Part two: Peter and the High Priest’s house
Display a picture of Peter or someone with a thoughtful expression, a clerical robe and card showing a church with the words ‘sometimes the church gets it wrong’. Put pens and paper nearby and ask people to think of situations where the church might have made the wrong decision. For example, historical attitudes to slavery, recent examples of non-inclusion (handle this sensitively).

Part three: the judgement of Pilate
Display a purple cloth and a card with scales or other symbol of justice. Make pens and labels available. Ask for drawings or words that relate to things on which we need to make decisions, such as war, the environment, career, everyday decisions that require us to use our judgement.

Part four: a cross of hope
Place a freestanding cross with pens and paper nearby. Invite people to write or draw their hopes for themselves, their families, friends, neighbours, communities, world. Attach these to the cross.


The act of worship

Call to worship
God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Introduction (a brief explanation of what is to happen)

We bow our heads in silence for words are too difficult to speak when we think about today.
We bow our heads in silence, in shame at the cruelty that exists in our world.
We bow our heads in silence to listen to your word, to enable you to speak to us.
We bow our heads in silence as Jesus did before, during and after the experiences of his life.
We bow our heads in silence before you.
God of the still, small voice, speak to us after the storms of life have done their worst, speak to our hearts with the silence of your love. Amen.

Hymn such as Were you there when they crucified my Lord?


Readings – Part one

  • The Last Supper (Luke 22.14-26).
  • Who is the greater? (Luke 22.27-38).
  • The Mount of Olives (Luke 22.39-54a).

Lord Jesus, we too have said we will stand by you and yet at times we too run away in fear.
We have said that we will love others as you taught and yet many are the times we don’t.
We have said we would offer support with our prayers, and yet so often we can be too busy to pray.
Like the disciples, we fear the unknown, we are worried about commitment, and we deny you in our daily lives at work or school.
Lord Jesus, when we face difficult decisions, help us to act responsibly and to act prayerfully.
Give us the courage to stand by you, quietly confident in the faith that you are as much with us as you were with Peter and the disciples. Amen.



Readings – Part two

  • Peter’s denial (Luke 22.54b-71).
  • Pilate (Luke 23.1-7).
  • Herod (Luke 23.8-11).

Hymn such as On Calvary’s tree (JP)


Readings – Part three

  • Return to Pilate (Luke 23.12-25)
  • Simon of Cyrene (Luke 23.26-31)
  • Two criminals (Luke 23.32-38)

Hymn such as There is a green hill far away


Readings – Part four

  • One of the criminals (Luke 23.39-43).
  • The centurion (Luke 23. 44-49).
  • Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23.50-56).

Hymn such as O sacred head, sore wounded

We wait expectantly at the foot of the cross.

Help us to wait when things go wrong, when we are misunderstood, when friends let us down, when the world ridicules us.

Help us to expect the peace of God, the loving presence of Jesus, the energy of the Spirit, and the very best of ourselves.

Let us have courage to speak up for Jesus as we wait in silence at the foot of the cross. Amen.
(leave in silence)

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