Last night I went to a Maundy Thursday service at another local congregation, a church a block or so (If we had blocks here in rural Vermont.) down the road from my own little church in Rupert.
They were doing a Maundy Thursday service and this year we were not, so it was a chance for me to worship instead of leading a service. (although in the end, the other pastor drew me into leading part of the worship.) This other church has about 20 regular members, and my church has about the same. Last night there were 11 of us worshiping.
It was a traditional Tenebrae service. Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning “shadow”, and the Tenebrae service is a service focusing on the darkening days as Jesus approached his death on the cross. It marks the last supper, with its dramatic conversation between Jesus and Judas, the heart-wrenching night watch in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As each section of scripture is read, candles and lights are extinguished, marking the dark days before and including the crucifixion.
Dark stuff. No wonder there were so few of us there.
But important stuff too. Part of the message of Easter, a message that carries through the entire bible (when you pay attention), is that God can take the worst things and turn them around into something amazing and wonderful – that no matter how we mere humans can mess things up, he can lead us back to a place of grace and joy.
And to recognize joy to its fullest, we have to have experienced pain and darkness.
My life is nothing special. The older I get, the more I realize that. I’ve had loss, failure and tragedy. I’ve been betrayed. I’ve been trampled on. I’ve done my share of screwing my own life up. I’ve spent some of my life in the darkness of uncontrolled depression. Just like a lot of people, there’s a lot of messiness.
But God has largely led me out of my mess, again and again. I am in a good place these days, surrounded by people who love me, a new bride, meaningful work, and a deep spiritual life. I appreciate the joy of this time more today, I think, because of my age and experience, and because of having lived in dark places.
That’s Easter. A day of light. A day that takes all the dark mankind could throw out there, and make of it something beyond imagining. Light after dark. Life after death. Understood and appreciated more because of the darkness. The Tenebrae.
And so we note it. We understand that even in the dark, God is at work. We don’t deny the dark. In fact, we defy it. And on Easter, we push it back and dance in the light. God lives. Death is defeated. There is no power, certainly not the dark, that can escape our Lord’s love and ability to turn tragedy to good.
Find time Sunday to worship Easter. Recall, Remember and Rejoice in our God’s love and his power of light. Celebrate the eternal life he promises and shows to us in the central event of our faith.
Be well. Travel wisely,