Home Worship Planning Seasons & Holidays Holy Week Service for Midweek, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday

Holy Week Service for Midweek, Maundy Thursday, or Good Friday

Traditionally, churches that hold Holy Week services on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday observe Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday and another service, such as Tenebrae, on Good Friday. Maundy Thursday was the night that Jesus and the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room for their last meal together. Jesus washed the disciples' feet and instituted what we now observe as the sacrament of Holy Communion. Many churches observe Good Friday by recalling the betrayal by Judas, the arrest and torture of Jesus, the desertion of the disciples, and Jesus'crucifixion, death, and burial. It is the most somber day of the church year.

The Tenebrae is an ancient Christian Good Friday service that makes use of gradually diminishing light through the extinguishing of candles to symbolize the events of that week from the triumphant Palm Sunday entry through Jesus' burial. Modern churches can make dramatic and effective use of simultaneous decreasing of the lights as each candle is extinguished. Since it is customary to NOT include Holy Communion on Good Friday, you may include the Scripture, a Communion hymn, and extinguishing of the first candle, but you should not include the celebration of the sacrament if you use this service on that day.

This service recognizes that many churches will not hold services on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but will gather on one or the other — or perhaps on Wednesday night. It is an attempt to recall through Scripture, music, sacrament, prayer, and candles, the entire week's events. Holy Communion is included at the appropriate place within the readings. The incremental decreasing of the sanctuary lights with each extinguished candle culminates with the final hymn sung by choir or congregation in minimal lighting. You may decide to have a soloist sing the final number in total darkness. During or immediately after this final singing, an acolyte processes into the sanctuary with the lighted Christ Candle from the Advent wreath, now the only light in the entire sanctuary. After the lit Christ Candle is placed, congregation, choir, or soloist could sing one or more verses of a familiar hymn, the final John 3:16-17 Scripture is read, and the people may sit quietly in prayer and depart in silence.

This service is highly adaptable. You may elect to eliminate or change the Scriptures and music as you see fit. You may decide to have the choir or a soloist offer selections in place of one or more congregational hymns. While the sermon may be located at different places within the order, locating it after the opening hymn allows the pastor to set an appropriate tone and allows the worshipers to experience and recall the events of that final week without interruption. The offering is intentionally omitted. You may wish to select a particular cause or ministry and encourage worshipers to leave an offering at the Communion rail or in designated plates. Following the final hymn in darkness or minimal lighting, you may decide that you will not use the Christ Candle or a single flame; thus, the congregation will remain in darkness.

You may use the service that follows as it is, or you may make your own changes and adaptations.

Holy Week Service of Communion and Tenebrae

Prelude and Silent Meditation

This musical service is an adaptation of the ancient Tenebrae service, which dates back to the earliest years of the church. Coming from the Latin word meaning "shadows," Tenebrae depicts — through the extinguishing of candles and the dimming of lights in the sanctuary — the flight of the disciples and the approaching Crucifixion.

Jesus surrounded himself with people who, like us, had failings and shortcomings. The events of Holy Week reveal the disciples' human nature and weaknesses: Judas betrays Jesus for a pocketful of coins; the disciples sleep while Jesus agonizes in the garden; Peter's anger causes him to take up a sword and strike the high priest's slave; the chief priests act out of fear or jealousy of Jesus; Pilate's willingness to hand over a man he believes to be innocent; and perhaps most poignant of all, Jesus' own very human desire to escape the Crucifixion. And is it possible that even today, our own human nature, weaknesses, and failings cause us also to betray, deny, convict, and crucify again?

This Tenebrae service offers an opportunity for us to become more aware of our own humanity and our relationship with Christ. Allow the text and music to draw you into the action and events that led to the actual crucifixion and to relate them to the events and actions in your own life.

HYMN: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" No. 297


Lord, Is It I? Matthew 26:17-29
Holy Communion (Do not include on Good Friday.)
Hymn during Communion: "Eat This Bread" Hymn 628
Hymn after Communion: "Bread of the World" No. 624
The first candle is extinguished.
Alone in the Garden Matthew 26:30-46
Hymn: "Go to Dark Gethsemane" No. 290
The second candle is extinguished.
Betrayed and Denied Matthew 26:47-75
Hymn: "Ah, Holy Jesus" No. 289
The third candle is extinguished.
Crucifixion Matthew 27:1-2, 11-44
Hymn: "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" No. 286
The fourth candle is extinguished.
Death on the Cross Matthew 27:45-54
Hymn: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" No. 298
The fifth candle is extinguished.
Burial in the Tomb Matthew 27:57-66
Hymn: "Were You There" No. 288
The sixth candle is extinguished.
Darkness and Silence
Solo: "What Wondrous Love Is This" No. 292 (stanzas 1 & 2)

But even in the dark and desolate silence of the tomb, God has not deserted us. Even now we have the hope that was promised by the prophets and fulfilled in that Christmas manger in Bethlehem. The Christ candle that was the center of our Advent wreath reminds us that in all times and in all circumstances, when it seems we have been abandoned and forsaken even by God, we are not alone. God is with us.

Hymn: "Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies" No. 282
Benediction John 3:16-17

Worshipers are invited to remain in prayer. Please depart in silence.

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