Maundy Thursday, Tenebrae prelude to Easter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Holy Week is filled with services that celebrate the life of Jesus Christ and tell the story of his last days walking among men.

Beginning on Palm Sunday special service lead to Resurrection Sunday or Easter Sunday.

Two special services that have become tradition in Methodist churches in South Alabama are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday Tenebrae.

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Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday is celebrated in remembrance of "The Last Supper" which is sometimes referred to as the Passover Meal, said the Rev. Richard Holmes, pastor of Brundidge United Methodist Church.

"In years past, and still in some churches today, the Maundy Thursday service includes washing of the feet in much the same way that Jesus washed the Apostles' feet," Holmes said. "Most churches today only observe communion as a remembrance of the way God saved his people from being slaves to Egypt.

An unblemished lamb was used for the meal and the blood of the lamb was smeared on the door frame of the house so the Angel of Death would "passover."

"Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world," Holmes said. "We take the bread and wine as the body and blood of the Lamb. Maundy Thursday is a service of devotion and remembrance and the remembrance is a commandment, 'Do this in remembrance of me. Maundy Thursday is a special service because we do it in remembrance of Jesus who came and died on the cross for the sins of the world so that we can have life everlasting."

The Maundy Thursday service will be at Brundidge United Methodist Church at 6 p.m. tonight.

On Good Friday, First United Methodist Church of Troy will hold Tenebrae Service at 7 p.m.

The Rev. John Brannon, pastor, said the "Service of Darkness" is held on Good Friday because the crucifixion happened on Friday.

"At First United Methodist, we combine the elements of Maundy Thursday, which is 'The Last Supper,' and the Tenebrae

Service," Brannon said. "The Tenebrae Service is a very liturgical service. There is no sermon, only readings of scripture verses of Isaiah's prophecy of the 'Suffering Servant' and the last days of Jesus at Gethsimine and the crucifixion. The Tenebrae Service is one of scripture and hymns by the choir."

Because the service combines elements of Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Brannon said Holy Communion is taken at the beginning of the service and is symbolic of The Last Supper.

"Then we shift gears dramatically to into the Good Friday Service," Brannon said.

During the Tenebrae Service, there is a gradual darkening of the sanctuary, symbolic of the darkness that came to the world with the impending crucifixion of Christ.

"We have a seven-branch candelabrum and one candle is extinguished after the reading of each scripture to show the gradual darkening of the earth," Brannon said. "When the service ends, the sanctuary is almost in total darkness."

At that time in the service, the altar is stripped. All paraments are removed from the pulpit and the altar.

"Everything is taken away except one cross on the altar and that cross is draped with a black cloth," Brannon said. "The stripping of the altar is probably the most significant thing we do because of the impact it has as we realize what the world would be without the light of Jesus Christ."

Brannon said if those in the congregation haven't been touched prior to the stripping of the altar, they are then.

"They see that the altar of their church is being stripped and suddenly realize how important it is to have the paraments in the church," he said. "At that point, we realized the significance of the Tenebrae Service."

The congregation leaves the sanctuary in silence. There are no hymns at the end of the service - only the darkness and the silence.

"The sanctuary will remain in darkness until Easter Sunday morning when everything will be white and bright," Brannon said. "Our Easter services are very meaningful, as we go through Holy Week one step at a time and linger at each. We don't race toward the resurrection. In fact, it won't even be mentioned until Sunday.

"Too often we have a tendency to run to the empty tomb and bypass the cross. We don't want to look at the agony and the pain of the cross, but it's important that we see it for what it was. The cross is the reason we have the light that comes on Easter morning."