Tag Archives: Tenebrae

Tenebrae: Holy Saturday

Today’s Tenebrae readings speak of Jesus’ burial in the earth; the seed falls to the ground. Jesus will brings life:

“My heart rejoices, my soul is glad,

Even my body shall rest in safety,

For you will not leave my soul among the dead

Or let your beloved know decay.” Psalm 16

His promise extends not only to humanity, but to creation itself. “Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness.”“

Tenebrae for Holy Saturday ends with an ancient homily:

“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.”

“The earth trembled and is still…” 

The Passion of Jesus is not only a human story; creation takes part in it too. At his death “the earth quaked, rocks were split” Matthew’s gospel says. (Matthew 27,51) “From noon onwards darkness came over the whole land till three in the afternoon,” Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us.

 The sun that rules the day, the moon that rules the night respond as Jesus cries out in a loud voice and gives up his spirit. Artists through the centuries place sun and moon at the cross of Jesus.

Remember too those great elemental realities blood and water, which John’s gospel says flowed from the side of Christ when a soldier pierced his side. Water refreshed with its contact with the Word of God; blood source of life for living creatures come from the side of Jesus. They also share in the mystery of redemption.

The homily for today says that Jesus at his death goes “to search for our first parent…to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve…I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”

Artists from the eastern Christian traditon see the Passion of Jesus leading to a great redemption. Jesus does not rise alone, but humanity and creation itself  will follow him.

Tenebrae

Tenebrae is an ancient Holy Week service celebrated on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Tenebrae, a latin word, means darkness, but the 15 lighted candles at the heart of this service say that darkness never has its way. The 15 candles stand for Jesus, his twelve disciples and the two disciples who leave Jerusalem for Emmaus after Jesus’ death, having lost all hope.

In the Tenebrae service, the candles are extinguished one by one, as the scriptures are read. His disciples leave him, one betrays him. Jesus goes to death alone, but his light remains burning.

Psalm 69 is read at Tenebrae on Holy Thursday:

“I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”

On Holy Thursday Jesus leaves Bethany with his disciples to celebrate the Passover feast in the evening in an upper room in Jerusalem near the temple. At the table he tells them their faith will be shaken and they will leave him.

The Tenebrae readings tell us  Jesus is our great high priest whose love never fails:

“We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
(Hebrews 4, 14-16)

These days of Holy Week we approach “the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace for timely help.”

A final reading on Holy Thursday from an Easter homily by St. Melito of Sardis reminds us: “He is the one who brought us out of darkness into light, out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life, and made us a people chosen to be his own. He is the Passover which is our salvation.”

We celebrated Tenebrae this morning, Holy Thursday, at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica, New York.