Christ's death re-enacted at somber church service

April 01, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

An acolyte at Ferndale United Methodist Church last night snuffed out 12 candles representing the apostles as they deserted Jesus.

"Crucify him!" and "His blood be on us and on our children!", the congregation, portraying the mob shouting to Pontius Pilate, read from a script dramatizing the death of Jesus.

Then, in the dimly lighted church, the congregation sang, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord," as they took turns driving nails into a plain wooden cross at the places where Jesus' hands were nailed.

After the congregation finished reading the script, Pastor Susan Duchesneau stripped the altar, handed the folded altar cloth and Bible to the acolyte to put away and draped the altar in black.

Most worshipers then left the church in silence. Some knelt to pray. A few wiped away tears.

The stark imagery was part of a Tenebrae service, one of many held throughout the area yesterday and today in Christian churches.

Tenebrae means darkness or shadows. The word refers to the three-hour darkness that spread over the land as Jesus hung on the cross, said Ms. Duchesneau. The Tenebrae service is "a goosebumpy kind of program," she said.

"What people remember from Palm Sunday are the palm branches and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. . . . Everything's just rosy. There's so much in the church that's celebratory. We need to call ourselves to accountability at least once a year."

The service commemorates the death of Jesus and helps people remember "the important part of the story," said Ms. Duchesneau. Mouthing the words of the mob reminds us that Jesus' death was the responsibility of each of us, she said.

The Rev. Phebe Coe, pastor of Epiphany Episcopal Church of Odenton, said the first time she saw an altar stripped for Tenebrae, "It was as if the church closed up. That's it. Gone. It's the end."

In her church's service last night, every candle except the one representing Christ was extinguished. The sanctuary will still be dark when worshipers return for a Good Friday prayer service tonight.

The gloom will not give way until the end of the Easter vigil service tomorrow night, when the lights will come up to reveal banks of forsythia, azaleas and lilies in celebration of the Resurrection.

Ms. Coe said the bustling activity of Palm Sunday and Easter services leaves worshipers breathless, with little time to feel the emotions behind the activity.

But the atmosphere of a Tenebrae service, she said, allows people to think about death and what is important in life.

"It's dark," she said. "You can't read. You're not stuck in your head."

Edwin F. Dosek described the Tenebrae services held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church in Crofton.

Kettledrums add to the drama of a reading of the Gospel of John, he said, and the readers and members of the congregation come forward, two by two, to bow to the cross. "That is solemn," Mr. Dosek said, adding that the expressions on the faces make it easier for him to see Christ in others.

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