Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae

Can we back up a little bit?

I realize that Easter is over and most of y’all have moved on to end-of-year and pre-summer planning, but I still want to talk through some stuff we did during Holy Week, because I need some advice!

Traditionally, RCC has had one worship service during Holy Week – the service is on Maundy Thursday and then the sanctuary is open all day on Friday for quiet prayers.  Because we only have one formal service, we kind of have to cram two liturgies – Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – into one service.  And actually – the Deacons lead the service of Tenebrae, so as soon as communion is over, I am able to walk to the back of the sanctuary and LISTEN to the Passion Narrative.

This year I tried to be really intentional about transitioning from the foot washing and communion liturgy to the Passion Narrative.  I wanted people to understand that we were walking through these events in real time.  I started with the altar looking like this:

Photo Apr 17, 2 07 35 PM

When I lived in Atlanta, we did an actual service of foot washing.  It was INCREDIBLE!  So humbling and spiritually powerful.  But it’s a challenging service (especially for a community that has never done anything like it) and I’m not quite sure RCC is ready for it.  So I used the altar to give them a visual and I read the narrative.  Then we shared communion.

After communion, the congregation sang “What Wondrous Love Is This” and I transformed the altar.

Photo Apr 18, 9 19 05 AM


Simple, but powerful.  Clear that something else was happening.

The Deacons took the communion elements out of the sanctuary and then gathered around the table to read the Passion Narrative.  At the end of every reading, a candle was extinguished and the lights were dimmed.  We sat in silence for about a minute at the end of the Narrative and then one candle was re-lit.  We put together a four-part a capella group that sang Amazing Grace and then we left the sanctuary.

I had several people tell me this year that they really thought the service was well-done.  I think the intentionality helped this year, but I think I have some room for improvement next year.

What do y’all do during Holy Week?  Any thoughts on how we can improve at RCC?

2 thoughts on “Maundy Thursday Worship & Service of Tenebrae

  1. I don’t know how large your congregation is. Ours is on the smaller side and even fewer people come out for our Good Friday service (like 40-50 or so). We do an experiential service where there are tables set up all around the perimeter of the room and the people sit in the middle encircling the altar table with the eucharist on it. The tables on the outskirts each have elements of the Passion on them, with typed up explanations for people to peruse and a challenge or direction (like pick this up, touch this and feel…, imagine this, put yourself there, say a prayer for, meditate on this, etc). It is meant to be a contemplative, personal experience as people go around to the tables and meditate and pray and touch the objects, holding them in their hands (things like the cat of nine tails, the sponge and gall to taste, the crown of thorns, the spikes used on the cross, the cross beam of rough wood, the sand of the desert hill). Music is playing and songs are being sung while people are doing this – no real organization, just do as you feel led. Hope this possibility speaks to you and gets some creative juices flowing! Your altars were great, by the way.

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