April 07, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

“Tenebrae” is the Latin word for “shadows,” and Tenebrae is a service of shadows. Held in an auditorium lit only by candles, Tenebrae explores, with Scripture readings and music, the last hours of Jesus’ life on earth.

During Holy Week, amid all the new and artistic celebrations of Christ’s passion that come each year, Cindy de Jong looks forward to one tradition: the Tenebrae service, to be held this year at 11 a.m., Friday, April 10 in the Fine Arts Center (FAC).   

“It’s always a very busy time, but that service is a time when I truly do enter into the worship of the moment, and it’s always very moving to me,” said de Jong, the coordinator of worship in the office of Christian formation at Calvin.

Service of shadows

Tenebrae is the Latin word for “shadows,” and Tenebrae is a service of shadows. Held in an auditoirum lit only by candles, Tenebrae explores, with scripture readings and music, the last hours of Jesus’ life on earth. As worshippers progress through the story of Christ’s suffering and death, candles are gradually snuffed out. “It takes us darker and darker,” de Jong explained.

Eventually, worshippers are left in total blackness—but not permanently.

“It ends with the candle of Christ’s returning,” de Jong said, “because we don’t end in the darkness. We end with Christ’s triumphal return over death.”

Message and music

Though the basics of the service remain the same from year to year, the message and music for Tenebrae do change. This year, John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship will speak on “A Crescendo of Wonder.” The service will also feature senior Esther Miller playing the violin and assistant dean of multicultural student development Jacque Rhodes singing “Out of the Darkness.”

“It stirs our understanding about the love and sacrifice of Christ,” said de Jong, who has organized a Tenebrae service every year since she came to Calvin in 1992. (The service existed before her time.) “The FAC got fuller ever year,” de Jong remembered. She reflected on the enduring appeal of the service: “I think that there are some who really like a tradition they can anticipate, that’s familiar, so that as they hear the stories and sing the songs, they can reflect more deeply,” she said. And other Holy Week services offer plenty of innovation, de Jong added.

Four stations

This year’s innovations are a fresh spin on the Stations of the Cross, pioneered at Calvin last year during Holy Week. Last year’s celebration featured a permanent installation of eight stations, which worshippers visited throughout the week. This year, organizers are creating a new station —each representing a different stage of Christ’s passion—for four consecutive days. “The idea is just to take some of the highlights of the journey of Christ and let people sort of indwell that particular frame of the story,” said interim chaplain Andy De Jong, who helped plan the stations.

Monday's station featured Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Tuesday spotlighted Christ on trial. Wednesday shows Christ denied, and Thursday sees Him crucified. The stations are multimedia and interactive.

“Each day includes visuals and exercises that people can choose to participate with or participate in,” said De Jong. “So, for example, on Wednesday, people will be given strips of cloth on which they can write a way that they deny Jesus … and when they’re done with that, they can take that and hang it on the trees.” The videos used in the stations were produced uniquely for Holy Week, he said.

As with last year’s Stations of the Cross, this year’s Holy Week stations were designed to communicate visually. “I think that for people who went through it last year, it was a very different kind of experience for them,” De Jong said. “Historically, we rely on words, we rely on preaching, and we thought we would take a different approach …and to sort of nuance the drama of Christ’s journey to the cross.”

The Holy Week chapels run every half-hour, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday. The Tenebrae service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in the FAC.

Cindy de Jong, coordinator of worship

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