Service of the Shadows

Bible readings and art works for Maundy Thursday, Service of the Shadows (Tenebrae Service for Easter Week) |

Photograph by Alfonso Pierantonio via Flickr.

Sadly, I’m not at the Service of the Shadows at West Baptist tonight.

Sitting in a dark church, lit by seven candles sitting on a rough wooden cross, every Maundy Thursday, people at West listen to the dark story of what Jesus experienced in his last hours, in seven parts.

My contribution to the ever-growing tradition at West was to include artworks for each of the seven Shadows. Here are the artworks and readings we contemplated in 2010.

For the next step in an evolving tradition, I thought I’d do an online Service of the Shadows with you based on the service I put together for West, which was in turn based on those of several friends and colleagues as well as traditional resources.

If you want to do the whole thing in 3D, you could gather eight candles (one for each reading, plus a separate ‘Christ candle’), a hammer and a block of wood. Or you could just read through, silently or aloud, and pause and contemplate at will. Doing this with someone else, and taking turns with the readings (taken from The Message translation), could be quite powerful if that appeals.

Service of the Shadows

Leader: The Lord be with you
People: And also with you.

Leader: Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.
People: His mercy endures forever.

Leader: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Leader: And this is the judgment, that the light has come into this world, and we loved darkness rather than light.
People: God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.

Leader: For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
People: Every one that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light. But all who do what is true come to the light.

Leader: Come, let us worship in spirit and truth. Most gracious God, look with mercy upon your family gathered here for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed, given into sinful hands, and suffered death on the cross.

Strengthen our faith and forgive our betrayals as we enter the way of His suffering; through Him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen

Matthew 26:36-46
The Shadow of Agony

Christ in Gethsemane, Vasily Perov

Christ in Gethsemane, Vasily Perov

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a garden called Gethsemane and told them, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.”

When he came back, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open. This time he let them sleep on, and went back a third time to pray, going over the same ground one last time.

When he came back the next time, he said, “Are you going to sleep on and make a night of it? My time is up, the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s get going! My betrayer is here.”

The first candle is extinguished.

Matthew 26:47-56
The Shadow of Betrayal

Judas kisses Jesus -- fresco by Giotto di Bondone at the Arena Chapel padua-judas-kiss-large

Judas kisses Jesus, Giotto di Bondone, Arena Chapel, Padua

The words were barely out of his mouth when Judas (the one from the Twelve) showed up, and with him a gang from the high priests and religious leaders brandishing swords and clubs. The betrayer had worked out a sign with them: “The one I kiss, that’s the one—seize him.” He went straight to Jesus, greeted him, “How are you, Rabbi?” and kissed him.

 Jesus said, “Friend, why this charade?”

Then they came on him—grabbed him and roughed him up. One of those with Jesus pulled his sword and, taking a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant, cut off his ear.

Jesus said, “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords. Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies—more, if I want them—of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?”

Then Jesus addressed the mob: “What is this—coming out after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I have been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. You’ve done it this way to confirm and fulfill the prophetic writings.”

Then all the disciples cut and ran.

The second candle is extinguished.

Matthew 26:57-68
The Shadow of Accusation

jesus and caiaphas

Jesus and Caiaphas, Matthias Stom

The gang that had seized Jesus led him before Caiaphas the Chief Priest, where the religion scholars and leaders had assembled. Peter followed at a safe distance until they got to the Chief Priest’s courtyard. Then he slipped in and mingled with the servants, watching to see how things would turn out.

The high priests, conspiring with the Jewish Council, tried to cook up charges against Jesus in order to sentence him to death. But even though many stepped up, making up one false accusation after another, nothing was believable.

Finally two men came forward with this: “He said, ‘I can tear down this Temple of God and after three days rebuild it.'”

The Chief Priest stood up and said, “What do you have to say to the accusation?”

Jesus kept silent.

Then the Chief Priest said, “I command you by the authority of the living God to say if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus was curt: “You yourself said it. And that’s not all. Soon you’ll see it for yourself:

The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One,

Arriving on the clouds of heaven.”

At that, the Chief Priest lost his temper, ripping his robes, yelling, “He blasphemed! Why do we need witnesses to accuse him? You all heard him blaspheme! Are you going to stand for such blasphemy?”

They all said, “Death! That seals his death sentence.”

Then they were spitting in his face and banging him around. They jeered as they slapped him: “Prophesy, Messiah: Who hit you that time?”

The third candle is extinguished.

Matthew 26:69-75
The Shadow of Desertion

Service of the Shadows, Maundy Thursday |

Peter denies Jesus, Josep Maria Subirachs, la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Peter denies Jesus, Josep Maria Subirachs, la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Peter denies Jesus, Josep Maria Subirachs, la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

All this time, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard. One servant girl came up to him and said, “You were with Jesus the Galilean.”

In front of everybody there, he denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

As he moved over toward the gate, someone else said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.”

Again he denied it, salting his denial with an oath: “I swear, I never laid eyes on the man.”

Shortly after that, some bystanders approached Peter. “You’ve got to be one of them. Your accent gives you away.”

Then he got really nervous and swore. “I don’t know the man!”

Just then a rooster crowed. Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.

The fourth candle is extinguished.

Matthew 27:1-2; 11-26
The Shadow of Injustice

Bible readings and art works for Maundy Thursday, Service of the Shadows (Tenebrae Service for Easter Week) |

Ecce Homo, Antonio Ciseri

In the first light of dawn, all the high priests and religious leaders met and put the finishing touches on their plot to kill Jesus. Then they tied him up and paraded him to Pilate, the governor.

Jesus was placed before the governor, who questioned him: “Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Jesus said, “If you say so.”

But when the accusations rained down hot and heavy from the high priests and religious leaders, he said nothing. Pilate asked him, “Do you hear that long list of accusations? Aren’t you going to say something?” Jesus kept silence—not a word from his mouth. The governor was impressed, really impressed.

It was an old custom during the Feast for the governor to pardon a single prisoner named by the crowd. At the time, they had the infamous Jesus Barabbas in prison. With the crowd before him, Pilate said, “Which prisoner do you want me to pardon: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus the so-called Christ?” He knew it was through sheer spite that they had turned Jesus over to him.

While court was still in session, Pilate’s wife sent him a message: “Don’t get mixed up in judging this noble man. I’ve just been through a long and troubled night because of a dream about him.”

Meanwhile, the high priests and religious leaders had talked the crowd into asking for the pardon of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.

The governor asked, “Which of the two do you want me to pardon?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

“Then what do I do with Jesus, the so-called Christ?”

They all shouted, “Nail him to a cross!”

He objected, “But for what crime?”

But they yelled all the louder, “Nail him to a cross!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere and that a riot was imminent, he took a basin of water and washed his hands in full sight of the crowd, saying, “I’m washing my hands of responsibility for this man’s death. From now on, it’s in your hands. You’re judge and jury.”

The crowd answered, “We’ll take the blame, we and our children after us.”

Then he pardoned Barabbas. But he had Jesus whipped, and then handed over for crucifixion.

The fifth candle is extinguished.

Matthew 27:27-44
The Shadow of Mockery

Bible readings and art works for Maundy Thursday, Service of the Shadows (Tenebrae Service for Easter Week) |

Jesus Mocked by Soldiers, Edouard Manet

​The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun. They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga. They plaited a crown from branches of a thornbush and set it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said. “Bravo!” Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick. When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him. Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.

Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the place they call “Skull Hill,” they offered him a mild painkiller (a mixture of wine and myrrh), but when he tasted it he wouldn’t drink it.

After they had finished nailing him to the cross and were waiting for him to die, they whiled away the time by throwing dice for his clothes. Above his head they had posted the criminal charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews. Along with him, they also crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

The high priests, along with the religion scholars and leaders, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—he can’t save himself! King of Israel, is he? Then let him get down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then! He was so sure of God—well, let him rescue his ‘Son’ now—if he wants him! He did claim to be God’s Son, didn’t he?” Even the two criminals crucified next to him joined in the mockery.

The sixth candle is extinguished​.

Matthew 27:45-54
The Shadow of Death

Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Salvador Dali | Bible readings and art works for Maundy Thursday, Service of the Shadows (Tenebrae Service for Easter Week) |

Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Salvador Dali

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”

The seventh candle is extinguished.

The Christ candle is hidden.

33 hammer blows on the cross, once for every year of Jesus’ life.

The Christ candle is revealed.

Song of the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.



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6 comments on “Service of the Shadows”

  1. Andy Reply

    it seems odd how baptists who are on the whole people who don’t have liturgy or formal orders of prayers seem to hanker after the order of liturgy. It seems to leave something lacking that is filled with co-opting from mystical traditions.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      I think it’s become pretty widespread among non-liturgical traditions to rediscover rituals and especially the value of the church calendar in their gatherings. Mark Pierson’s work in New Zealand and abroad has been significant in re-introducing meaningful ritual and rhythm into Baptist and other churches.

      I’d say that a large number of people in Baptist and other non-liturgical churches don’t hanker for or even like liturgy, though, particularly as an every-week format. By and large people these days end up where they are suited, in terms of style of worship. It’s a big discussion, but not for today!

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  4. Tim Palmer Reply

    Thanks again for this Thalia. I used this last year in a different church setting, and will most likely use it again in our church this year.

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