Tenebrae – Using a Large Work in a Worship Service

How to include a large work in a Tenebrae service...

The discipline of planning ahead can reduce stress on church musicians and worship leaders during the times of the great seasons of the church year. The difficulty is deciding exactly what to do. Many worship ministries choose to do a large-scale musical work in either concert or worship form during the Christmas season. The lenten season presents more problems, particularly if your church would like to do a "classical" work instead of a newly composed musical. What follows is a Tenebrae service presented on Good Friday evening, 2008, by the combined choirs and worship leadership of two churches. We have taken the service and made it "generic" -- that is removed the specific names and places -- in order that you might use it, either in whole, or modified as fits your local situation. The centerpiece of the worship service was the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The musical content included an anthem from each choir, Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings by a string quartet, and six of the seven movements (omitting the Sanctus) of the John Rutter Requiem, accompanied by orchestra.The service was planned collaboratively, using resources from the internet. A different Requiem setting might be substituted, but Rutter's combination of texts seemed to fit this service perfectly.

A Service of Tenebrae

Call to Worship

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me - arr. Mark Hayes  Choir


The song we just heard reminds us of the joy that we experienced last Sunday -- Palm Sunday -- the day Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with kingly honors. What a sense of triumph Jesus' followers must have felt in that first Palm Sunday procession. But tonight we remember the events of two of the most somber and dark days in human history -- Jesus' last days on earth.

I'd like to welcome you on behalf of both of our churches to this Good Friday evening service. It is a service of Tenebrae, which is a Latin word meaning shadows. The purpose of a Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion of Jesus Christ. It is not supposed to be a happy service. During the service we will also be celebrating the Lord's Supper, doing this in remembrance of Jesus.

When we began to talk about what we might do for our combined worship service this year, we found ourselves inexorably drawn to this day, Good Friday (and what a contradiction in terms that label is), and to the musical work that forms the musical centerpiece of our worship tonight -- the Requiem as set by John Rutter.

As many of you will know, a Requiem is most often thought of as a mass for the dead in the Roman church. Throughout history requiems have provided a means for those left behind to lament the passing of their father, sister, friend, or brother in Christ. Lament is something that we don't do much in America...and in fact most of us don't understand the emotional outpouring of grief that we often see on the television in other cultures when someone is mourned.

Tonight, though, we will lament the arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion of the Light of the World -- Jesus, the Christ. God ordained before the beginning of time that Jesus would suffer the greatest inhumanities for you and I -- to take our sins to the cross in order to redeem us, and restore our relationship with the God of all creation.

We will hear, in the words of the Gospel of Matthew, how Jesus died for us -- and we will let the music of John Rutter, Samuel Barber, and the German Baroque composer Hans Leo Hassler, speak...in the way only music can...what words cannot say.

But the Requiem is not just a lament. It also serves as a reminder of the hope that we have in Christ's sacrifice -- the knowledge that those who believe will spend eternity with the Light of the World. The music tonight has an undergirding of hope from the tortured anguish of the opening cry, to the confidence of the final measures.

And this Requiem is not a latin mass, but an English setting that combines some of the most ancient words of the church "Kyrie eleison" (which is Greek for "Lord, Have Mercy"), with the glorious comfort of the Psalms ("The Lord is My Shepherd"), and the promise of the Gospel ("I am the resurrection and the life").

Throughout the evening, our focus will be upon the Light that Christ brought to the world. Many of you will be familiar with the advent celebration of lighting a candle each Sunday during the weeks before Christmas to anticipate the Light of Christ coming to the stable in Bethlehem.

Tonight, we will remember Jesus' sacrifice by gradually extinguishing candles until only the light of Christ (the Christ candle) is still burning. I invite you to join with me in a time of silent prayer as we prepare our hearts for worship.


Were You There

Were you there when they crucified my Lord...

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree...

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb...

The Lord's Supper

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded - arr. Jay Rouse Choir

Adagio for Strings - Samuel Barber



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 hid: 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 sprit and truth.

Reading - Hebrews:4:6-11

…God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.”
Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.

For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest.


Reading - Matthew 26:30-36

Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.
On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,

‘God will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

Jesus replied “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

People: “No!”

Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”

And all the other disciples vowed the same. Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”



Reading -Matthew 26:47-56

He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”

When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.  So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

And even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests and elders of the people. The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.” So Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.

Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.” Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled.



Reading -Matthew:26:57-75

Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end.

Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?”

People: “Guilty! He deserves to die!”

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”

Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”  But Peter denied it in front of everyone.

People: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath.

People: “I don’t even know the man.”

A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Peter swore,

People: “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!”

And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.


Music - PIE JESU

Reading -  Matthew 27:1-10

Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.  When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders.  “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says,

“They took the thirty pieces of silver—
the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel,
and purchased the potter’s field,
as the Lord directed.”



Reading - Matthew 27: 11-24

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.
Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.

“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded.

But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas.  As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

(He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)  Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”  Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back,

People: “Barabbas!”

Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

They shouted back,

People: “Crucify him!”

“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder,

People: “Crucify him!”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”  So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.



Reading - Matthew 27:27-31

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.



Reading - Matthew 27:32-44

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.  And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there.  A sign was fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.  The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus.  “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!  He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him!

For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.



Reading - Matthew 27:45-50

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”  Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.



The Christ candle is removed from the table and is taken up the center aisle. When it has begun to move (not before), the next reading follows.

He was despised and rejected by those who could not see Him as the Light of the World.


Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him.


And with his stripes we are healed.


The world of darkness believed that by killing Jesus, the Light of the World could be extinguished.


Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the world of darkness discovered that Jesus, the Light of the World could never be extinguished. The Light of the World will conquer darkness for all eternity.



The congregation exits in silence

© 2008, 2014, 2021 All Rights Reserved