Read the full story in Matthew 21:1-9
"Let your light shine before men . . . " Matthew 5:16 ISV
The congregation sat around tables arranged to form a cross. On each corner stood a white candle, the flames dancing in the warm, Zimbabwean night. A large white candle held place of honor at the center of the cross, its flame representing Jesus, Light of the World. Gradually the story of Jesus’ last week unfolded through readings interspersed with hymns. After each reading, one person extinguished a flame.
I listened to how Jesus struggled emotionally in Gethsemane yet, "Not what I want, but what you want." (Matthew 26:39 GNB) As a candle flame flickered and died, I asked myself, "Is that my attitude when I'm faced with a difficult decision? Do I write what God wants me to write, and not what I want to write? Am I truly yielded to my Heavenly Father?"
I listened to the story of the Last Supper. As another flame was extinguished, I shared with the congregation in the celebration of Holy Communion. I compared my situation with the confused disciples. I knew about the horrors of the crucifixion. But I also knew of the joys and relief of the resurrection.
With each reading, the light grew dimmer, and I saw how Jesus’ circle of supporters grew smaller. When He asked for prayer support, his three closest companions fell asleep. As he faced the mockery of a trial, Peter, the one on whom Jesus said the church would be built, denied even knowing him. As He was raised on that dreadful cross, the only one of his close disciples mentioned is John, who stood with His mother.
At the end of the ordeal, even God, the Father, turned his back on His Son. The second-last light went out. Only one flame still burned: the large central candle.
Then, Jesus "breathed his last." (Luke 23:46 ISV). The final flame went out. Blackness engulfed the room.
Tension was palpable. Somehow the darkness made me more aware of the horrors of what had just happened. The Son of God--dead. Murdered. For me. For you. For each of us.
After 60 long seconds, one sole match flared. The rekindled light from the central candle broke through the darkness. Just one little light, but it chased away the immediate darkness. It reminded us that Jesus had never really died. His Spirit would never leave us.
As we silently left the church, we knew we would meet again on Sunday. Easter Sunday. The Day of Resurrection. This time the atmosphere would be different. This time we would celebrate. This time we would remember, "Jesus is Risen!"
Variations of this Tenebrae service will be held in many churches across the globe this coming week, as Christians of all denominations enact the growing darkness around our Lord as the crucifixion approached. But for us in today's world, at least we know that the cross is not the end. Easter is coming!
SHIRLEY CORDER lives near the beach in South Africa with her pastor husband. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is currently available for pre-order at a discounted price on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble (B&N.com). Shirley is also contributing author to nine books to date and hundreds of her inspirational and life-enrichment articles have been published internationally. You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar cancer site, or follow her on Twitter.