The highlight of Holy week for me was not Easter. It came in an unexpected way, on Maundy Thursday.
The Maundy Thursday service was a Tenebrae service. I had attended one years before, and was touched by how powerful it was. In a Tenebrae service, the lights are slowly lowered throughout the service, until the sanctuary is cloaked in complete darkness, symbolizing the darkness that fell upon the earth as Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:45).
I appreciated the quiet, the stillness, and the contemplation. I feel like those moments make the celebrations much more meaningful on Easter Sunday.
What surprised me most was how much the liturgy that was woven throughout the service touched me. I have mixed feelings about liturgy. Sometimes it just seems like rote routine that we trudge through. I think of stories I’ve heard of the early Catholic church, where people recited words in Latin that they barely understood. I’m wary of reading words that are placed before me, out of fear that I’m just reading them instead of letting them into my heart. I don’t want to become a stagnant shell, simply going through the motions.
Sometimes liturgy brings comfort. Although I feel we tend to overuse the Lord’s Prayer without really thinking through what it means, those words bring me comfort as I quietly let them slide off my lips. Whenever I recite the words of confession from the Methodist hymnal that I learned so many years ago, the words touch the very innermost part of my soul.
Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved You with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church.We have not done Your will, We have broken Your law, we have rebelled against Your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As I sat in that Maundy Thursday service, we recited liturgy. It didn’t feel forced or rote. It felt meaningful and sincere. I let the full effect of each word slip into my soul. I thought of Jesus and the incredible sacrifice He made and how unworthy I am. How amazing this crazy thing called Christianity is.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.