As we enter into Spring, many people find their spirits buoyed up by the increasing amount of daylight. Easter, then, is often seen as a season of light. Yet in Holy Week and Easter, darkness plays a powerful and evocative role in our worship.
The most specifically dark service is Tenebrae on Holy Wednesday night. Tenebrae means “shadows,” and in this service, as readings and Psalms are read, the candles providing the light are extinguished one by one until the church is complete darkness. After a loud sound signifying the death of Christ, one candle reemerges to represent the beginning of the light of the resurrection.
Tenebrae is not the only service that uses darkness to enhance our worship. On Maundy Thursday, after the stripping of the altar, the lights are extinguished except for a light shining on the bare altar. Overnight, people stay with Christ at the altar of repose in a pool of light in a darkened space.
The Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, we do the opposite of Tenebrae. We begin by kindling the new fire in the Memorial Garden to light the Paschal Candle. We enter the church in darkness, the only light being the Paschal Candle and the small candles we hold. Darkness hovers as we hear the stories of our salvation and renew our Baptismal vows. Then as we proclaim Christ is risen, light suddenly floods the worship space, and we find ourselves lit up by the Holy Spirit in our Easter joy.
Darkness also plays a significant role in our sunrise worship on Easter Sunday morning. When we gather at 6:00 a.m., it is quite dark. We hold candles to see by, hoping the wind won’t blow them out. As we move through the Eucharist, light gently increases until we find ourselves no longer in need of candles as the day of Resurrection dawns.
Come join us in this season of darkness and light in Holy Week and Easter, remembering the words of Psalm 139:10,11: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,’ darkness is not dark to thee, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to thee are both alike.” (BCP p. 62)