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April 19, 2019: “Good Friday Tenebrae”

Tenebrae is a service that recognizes the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.  For UUs, it’s a chance to share the stories of suffering in current world.  This quiet service ends in darkness, with only the extinguished candles as hope for the new beginning of Easter Sunday.

INTRO Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Welcome to Our Good Friday Tenebrae Service.

I wanted to start by sharing with you a bit of the history of Tenebrae.  It is a common prayer of Christianity, traditionally practiced by clerics — priests, monks, nuns and the like — on behalf of the laity.  Recently it’s been practiced more and more by regular people, and even by the ordained in denominations without a priestly role.

In the Roman Catholic Church, where it began, it was divided into eight parts, the first being a nocturnal Office (Vigils, later changed to Matins) and 7 Offices of the day: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

The three days leading up to Easter, also known as the Sacred Triduum.  

For centuries, During the Triduum, Matins and Lauds were combined to form Tenebrae, and they were said at night, ending just before midnight.  In 1955 Pope Pius XII, ever the reformer, changed Tenebrae into an evening service, observed at roughly the hours we’re observing it now.

“Tenebrae has taken different forms in different traditions….

  • 7, 12 or 14 candles
  • Readings, unison prayers, chanting, singing, or any combi

Consistent elements: 

  • Light from hearse(s) 
  • Darkness
  • End with loud noise…fracture
  • Carrying out the last candle in silence.

Tonight, our format will use

  • 14 candles, 13 readings, 3 voices
  • Alternate Biblical/contemporary
  • Pause for reflection, chime, extinguished by reader
  • Service will end abruptly with the loud noise, but we will remain quiet,  in the dark
  • Invited to end by carrying the candle and hearses together

Let’s begin with the first reading


The Gospel according to Mark.

Chapter 14, verses 17 through 21

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 

They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 

He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread[ into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Joe extinguishes candle.]  

SECOND READING Halcyon Domanski

“At Some Time,” By Rebecca Bryan

We all take part in this ancient play.

At some time.

There is no other way.

At some time…

Thieves, guilty of poor choices

caught red-handed in our human reality.

One points at the other and says, “You: save me.”

The other bows his head. “I accept responsibility.

The mistakes I’ve made are real.”

At some time….

Believers, excited to have found the answer.

We follow those who lead the way.

Bold and courageous we leave behind the familiar until one day unwilling to live through the anxiety of a new truth we slip back to our old familiar ways.

At some time….

Bystanders, as the most frequent of our days are spent.

Watching others change and make change,

busily focused on our needs, caring for family, jobs and friends.

Curious to know what the fuss is all about. Watching and waiting to find out.

Oblivious to all that is underfoot. Heads down, deadlines to meet, responsibilities weighing upon us.

At Some Time…

Broken Hearted.

Weeping as truth is struck down by those in power as if to say

– don’t you dare –

keep trying.

Who are you to weep?

Weeping at the loss…


broken open

by a love

that never leaves us the same.

At Some Time…

We all play every part

in this ancient play.

At some time.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Halcyon extinguishes candle.]

THIRD READING Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

The Gospel according to Matthew.

Chapter 26, verses 31 through 35 

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 

Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 

Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 

Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl, then extinguishes candle.]


“The companionable Dark,” by Kathleen Norris, from Little Girls in Church

Of here and now,

Seed lying dormant in the earth

The dark to which all lost things come —

Scarves and rings and precious photographs,

And of course, our beloved dead.

The brooding dark,

Our most vulnerable hours,

Limbs loose in sleep, mouths agape.

The faithful dark, 

where each door leads,

Each one of us, alone.

The dark of God Come close as breath, 

our one companion all the way through,

The dark of a needle’s eye.

Not the easy dark of dusk candles,

But dark from which comforts flee.

The deep down dark of one by one,

Dark of wind and dust,

Dark in which stars burn.

The floodwater dark of hope, Jesus in agony in the garden,

Esther pacing her bitter palace.

A dark by which we see


Like truth, 

Like flesh and bone:

Help me,

Who am alone,

And have

No help

But thee

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Joe extinguishes candle.]

FIFTH READING Halcyon Domanski

The Gospel According to Mark, chapter 14, verses 32 through 41 

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 

He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 

And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 

He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Halcyon extinguishes candle.]

SIXTH READING Rev Denis Letourneau Paul 

“I Am Waiting,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting for my case to come up   

and I am waiting

for a rebirth of wonder

and I am waiting for someone

to really discover America

and wail

and I am waiting   

for the discovery

of a new symbolic western frontier   

and I am waiting   

for the American Eagle

to really spread its wings

and straighten up and fly right

and I am waiting

for the Age of Anxiety

to drop dead

and I am waiting

for the war to be fought

which will make the world safe

for anarchy

and I am waiting

for the final withering away

of all governments

and I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming   

and I am waiting

for a religious revival

to sweep thru the state of Arizona   

and I am waiting

for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored   

and I am waiting

for them to prove

that God is really American

and I am waiting

to see God on television

piped onto church altars

if only they can find   

the right channel   

to tune in on

and I am waiting

for the Last Supper to be served again

with a strange new appetizer

and I am perpetually awaiting

a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called

and I am waiting

for the Salvation Army to take over

and I am waiting

for the meek to be blessed

and inherit the earth   

without taxes

and I am waiting

for forests and animals

to reclaim the earth as theirs

and I am waiting

for a way to be devised

to destroy all nationalisms

without killing anybody

and I am waiting

for linnets and planets to fall like rain

and I am waiting for lovers and weepers

to lie down together again

in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed   

and I am anxiously waiting

for the secret of eternal life to be discovered   

by an obscure general practitioner

and I am waiting

for the storms of life

to be over

and I am waiting

to set sail for happiness

and I am waiting

for a reconstructed Mayflower

to reach America

with its picture story and tv rights

sold in advance to the natives

and I am waiting

for the lost music to sound again

in the Lost Continent

in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day

that maketh all things clear

and I am awaiting retribution

for what America did   

to Tom Sawyer   

and I am waiting

for Alice in Wonderland

to retransmit to me

her total dream of innocence

and I am waiting

for Childe Roland to come

to the final darkest tower

and I am waiting   

for Aphrodite

to grow live arms

at a final disarmament conference

in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting

to get some intimations

of immortality

by recollecting my early childhood

and I am waiting

for the green mornings to come again   

youth’s dumb green fields come back again

and I am waiting

for some strains of unpremeditated art

to shake my typewriter

and I am waiting to write

the great indelible poem

and I am waiting

for the last long careless rapture

and I am perpetually waiting

for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn   

to catch each other up at last

and embrace

and I am awaiting   

perpetually and forever

a renaissance of wonder

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl, then extinguishes candle.]


The Gospel according to John, chapter 18, verses 33 through 37 

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 

Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Joe extinguishes candle.]

EIGHTH READING Halcyon Domanski

“Body of Rags, International Bridge Between the US & Mexico,” by Ray Gonzalez

Yes, I am a body of rags lying

here on the bridge waiting for

a hot rain to wash me open,

dissolve me off the bridge

because this border is closed.

I rot on the boundary line

and can’t enter Juarez,

pennies thrown at me

when a drunk El Pasoan

returns in the darkness

and sees my shape that

makes him hurry across.

No head, decades ago they threw

it in the river without my screams.

My arms were the first to go

when I couldn’t climb the wall.

I can never leave this bridge.

I live on the pure line that divides

countries and grabs my hunger

from sliding into Mexico with

my outstretched hands.

I still have my knees.

I used to be sold in Juarez and

smuggled into El Paso, the egg

that floated down the Rio Grande

to break hundreds of miles away

before being thrown back.

I stay on the bridge and can’t move.

Do not cross to El Paso without wiping

your shoes of me, one foot on US

concrete, the other scraping away

at my Mexican rags.

When I struggle against the wire fence,

I make sure I salute two flags.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Halcyon extinguishes candle.]

NINTH READING Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul 

The Gospel according to Mark, chapter 15, verses 16 through 20

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl, then extinguishes candle.]

TENTH READING Rev. Joe Cherry 

“Help Us to Hold the Mystery,” by Celie Katovitch

Spirit of life and death,

Thou who art as present to us in our suffering

As in our wellbeing,

Abide with us in this permeable time

Between dusk and dark.

Soothe the secret pains we carry.

Bless us with the courage to move toward our grief

And not away.

When all is hidden—

When we find ourselves moving among the shadows—

When we do not know the way—

Quiet our hearts; still our restlessness.

Help us to embrace the unknown:

To hold the mystery,

And to let ourselves be held by it.

For Thou art the great Hiddenness,

And yet we know that our breath is not so close to us

As thy presence.

Abide with us, O spirit of compassion,

As the power of healing,

The assurance of peace,

The Love that will not let us go.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Joe extinguishes candle.]

ELEVENTH READING Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul 

Psalm 22.  A Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

    and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,

    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our ancestors trusted;

    they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved;

    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;

    scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me;

    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—

    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;

    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth,

    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,

    for trouble is near

    and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,

    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

they open wide their mouths at me,

    like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,

    and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

    it is melted within my breast;

my mouth[a] is dried up like a potsherd,

    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

    you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;

    a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shriveled;

I can count all my bones.

They stare and gloat over me;

they divide my clothes among themselves,

    and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!

    O my help, come quickly to my aid!

Deliver my soul from the sword,

    my life from the power of the dog!

    Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;

    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

You who fear the Lord, praise him!

    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

    stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor

    the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,[f]

    but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

    my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor[h] shall eat and be satisfied;

    those who seek him shall praise the Lord.

    May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember

    and turn to the Lord;

and all the families of the nations

    shall worship before him.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,

    and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;

    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,

    and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him;

    future generations will be told about the Lord,

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,

    saying that he has done it.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl, then extinguishes candle.]

TWELFTH READING Halcyon Domanski

“Being the Resurrection,” A Meditation by Victoria Weinstein

The stone has got to be rolled back from the tomb again and again every year.

Roll up your sleeves.

He is not coming back, you know.

He is not coming back unless it is we who rise for him

We who lay healing hands on the reviled and rejected like he did 

on his behalf — 

We who rage for righteousness in his insistent voice

We who love the sinner, even knowing that “the sinner” is no farther off than our own heartbeat

He will not be back to join us at the table

To share God’s extravagant banquet

God’s love feast, all are invited, come as you are

And so it is you and I who must feast for him

Must say the grace and break the bread and pass it to the left 

and dish up the broiled fish (or pour the wine) and pass it to the right.

And treat each one so tenderly

as though just this morning she or he made the personal effort

to make it back from heaven, or from hell

but certainly from death

to be by our side.

Because if by some miracle (and why not a miracle?)

He did come back

Wouldn’t he want to see us like this?

Wouldn’t it be a miracle to live for just one day

So that if he did, by some amazing feat

come riding into town

He could take a look around and say

“This is what I meant!”

And we could say

it took us a long time…

but we finally figured it out.

Oh, let us live to make it so. 

You are the resurrection and the life.

[Minute of silence.  Denis chimes bowl. Halcyon extinguishes candle.]


The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 27, verses 33 through 51

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull),they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[x] until three in the afternoon.And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.