This post is part of the Christian Writers blog chain. Our theme for this month is “Joy”. Please see the list to the right and visit my friends’ blogs to see what they have to say about this topic
Our church is having a Good Friday Tenebrae Service tonight. Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning shadows or darkness, and the service commemorates Jesus’ last days leading to the cross. With a combination of music, and Scripture readings from the Prophets and the Gospels, we’ll follow the path from light to darkness.
The candles will be lit during the opening song, “Jesus is the Light of the World”. As the service progresses with more songs and Scripture, the candles will be extinguished one by one. Total darkness comes after the singing of “The Power of the Cross” and a reading of John 19:30: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” The congregation will leave in silence (in the shadows, in the darkness) as the choir sings “Beautiful Savior”.
As you might imagine, it can be a solemn and touching service. Participants can find themselves grieving like the people of Israel when Ezra read the Law. In the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, we read of Ezra and other priests publicly reading the Word of God. Apparently, that had not been done for many years, and “all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law” (v9).
Nehemiah’s response to their weeping: “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared : for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry ; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.” Nehemiah 8:10-11 KJV
Nehemiah wasn’t telling them God’s Word should have no effect on them. He was saying the time to weep was over – it was now time to rejoice – much as described in Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” At times, The Word should cause us to mourn over our sin, but The Word will also take us beyond that into great joy. And, as Nehemiah said, the joy of the Lord is our strength that overcomes and can turn us from grief to rejoicing.
In a Tenebrae service, such as many churches will have tonight, or in our own time of Bible study and meditation, we should be broken-hearted when we consider the suffering Jesus endured for us. It may bring tears to our eyes when we imagine the hammer’s ring as the nails are driven in, or remember His forlorn cry of “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” as the Father turned His face away.
But, we can’t stay there long. We should continue to what awaits – to what washes all the darkness away – the joy of the empty tomb! Yes, the joy of the Lord – Who He is and what He has done for us – is our strength that overcomes the darkness.
“Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalms 30:4-5