To reach the light Christ’s Resurrection brought into the world, Christians must walk through the dark shadows of his Crucifixion.
That darkness will be reflected today in Maundy Thursday observances along with the commandment Christ gave his disciples during their last meal together — “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another.”
Many Maine congregations tonight will hold traditional Tenebrae services. Those services may be held on the Wednesday, Thursday or Friday before Easter. Other churches will act out the Last Supper tonight using the Scriptures from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as Christians prepare for their most significant religious holiday on Sunday.
Maundy Thursday takes its name from the Latin word “mandatum,” the root of the English word mandate, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. The word “Tenebrae” means darkness or shadows in Latin and is the popular term for the prayers said throughout the Middle Ages by monks and priests during the hours of darkness.
The services in Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist and other denominations today also will focus on the suffering, humiliation and death of Christ. Many rituals will involve the gradual extinguishing of nearly all light in the sanctuary. Some will include the tradition of foot washing to honor the way Christ cleansed the feet of his disciples.
“We use these teachings to lead us into a service of the shadows as we walk through the betrayal, agony, loneliness, desertion, accusation, mockery and death of Christ and it is all told through the words of Scripture,” the Rev. Andrew Geaghan, assistant pastor at East Orrington Congregational, said last week of the event at his church, located at 28 Johnson Mill Road in Orrington.
Members will re-enact Christ’s final evening with his disciples using the Savior’s words from the Book of John, according to the minister. As the story unfolds, the lights in the church grow dimmer and dimmer until the congregation is in darkness.
“We feel that with the power of those uplifting teachings and the raw emotion of the shadows this service presents an open door to individuals who may come to [Maundy Thursday] from many different experiential, spiritual and emotional paths,” Geaghan said.
Members of St. Thomas Anglican Church in Ellsworth took part Wednesday in the congregation’s first Tenebrae service. It was held early in the evening, so light still streamed in through the windows of the tiny church on Route 1A. That did not dampen the impact of the service, one worshipper said.
“I found it very striking and it had much more of an impact on me than I was anticipating,” Valerie McCadden of Bar Harbor said after the 30-minute service concluded in silence with just one lit candle on the altar to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. “The imagery of that final single lighted candle being removed was very strong.”
Leroy Weed of Stonington, a subdeacon at the church, agreed.
“I think it becomes very personal,” he said of the Tenebrae service. “It’s a time to reflect on where you are in your walk with the lord.”