Tenebrae: A Service for Shadows and Grieving after Sandy Hook Shooting

FRAGILE.

Tomorrow, ministers across America will be addressing the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Sometimes, the best we can do is grieve together, and I hope that our churches, of all places, are sanctuaries that can honor, facilitate and express grief together.

So, I put together a short service based on a Tenebrae service. Typically, this is a service for the Wednesday of Holy Week. But Tenebrae means shadow, and many of us very much feel caught beneath long shadows. So using the style and some of the content of the Tenebrae service in the Episcpal Book of Occasional Services, I created this if anyone is looking for a vigil or memorial service that is something other than the lighting of candles.

Somehow, the extinguishing of candles seems more appropriate for our grief this weekend. This is not intended to replace the celebration of the Eucharist, of course. It might make for an interesting sermon, though.

Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

An Invocation for Grieving (said from the darkness as candles are lit in a darkened sanctuary. Candles may also be lit before the service begins)

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem, the slaughter of holy innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Our hearts and spirits are decimated with grief and questioning. God our Creator, you called us all into being in this fragile life, which had seemed so full of promise. We commit to your care the lives ended too quickly. Be with us now in our grieving, in our weeping, in our sorrow through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Silent Procession

Presiders, one for each section, enter in silence, in a darkened sanctuary, save for the candles on a table set before the gathered community. A candle for each of the dead is appropriate. The service immediately begins with the Antiphon.

Antiphon 1:

A voice is heard, wailing and lamenting. Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses all consolation: they are no more.

Psalm 137:1-4

By the waters of Babylon—
we sat down and wept
when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up,
there on the trees of that land.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

Antiphon 1

A voice is heard, wailing and lamenting. Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses all consolation: they are no more.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished.)

V: By the rivers of Babylon,
 we sat down and there we wept
 when we remembered.
R:
 On the willows* there
 we hung up our harps when we were asked for songs and mirth

Antiphon 2

The Dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence. Turn your steps, O God, toward our endless ruins.

Psalm 74:3-11;19-22

Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.
4 Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
5 At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.*
6 And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling-place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
8 They said to themselves, ‘We will utterly subdue them’;
they burned all the meeting-places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our emblems;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is no one among us who knows how long. 
1
0
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name for ever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand;
why do you keep your hand in* your bosom?
Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and an impious people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild animals;
do not forget the life of your poor for ever.
20 Have regard for your* covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence.
21 Do not let the downtrodden be put to shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, plead your cause;
remember how the impious scoff at you all day long.

Antiphon 2

The Dark places of the land are full of the haunts of violence. Turn your steps, O God, toward our endless ruins.

V: I am weary with crying; my throat is parched
R: My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished.

Antiphon 3
Do you work wonders for the dead? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave? Are your wonders known in the darkness?

Psalm 88

O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
 in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Antiphon 3
Do you work wonders for the dead? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave? Are your wonders known in the darkness?

V: Our souls are sorrowful, even to the point of death;
R: We will stay awake and pray and mourn together.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished.

Antiphon 4: We mourn for them as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over them, as one weeps over a firstborn.

Zechariah 12:10-14

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one* whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. 11On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12The land shall mourn, each family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; 13the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; 14and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

Antiphon 4
We mourn for them as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over them, as one weeps over a firstborn.

V: They were sitting at the tomb, making lamentation and weeping for the Lord.
R: They weep bitterly in the night, tears run down their cheeks. They have none to comfort them.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished.

Antiphon 5
Look, Lord and see: sorrow is deep in our bones. We are stunned by it and faint all day long.

Lamentations 1:12, 16, 2:18-19

12 Is it nothing to you,*
all you who pass by?
Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
16 For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.

Cry aloud* to the Lord!
O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!
19 Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
Look, Lord and see.

Antiphon 5
Look Lord and see: Sorrow is deep in our bones. We are stunned by it and faint all day long.

V: The sword makes orphans in the streets, as plague does within doors.
R: My sighs are many and my heart is faint.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished.

Antiphon 6
We will not fear, though the earth be moved. It is God how makes war to cease in all the world.

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
* and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3 Though its waters rage and foam,
* and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4 The LORD of hosts is with us;
* the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

God is our help at the break of day.

7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;

9 Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
* what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
* he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,

and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God.”

Antiphon 6: We will not fear, though the earth be moved. It is God how makes war to cease in all the world.

V: “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,”
R: Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.

Silence

(During the silence, a portion of the candles are extinguished as the names of the dead, if available are read off. A bell may toll for each candle extinguished. All candles should be extinguished, save the Christ candle in the center.)

Antiphon 7: There will be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain. Weeping will endure but we dare to hope for joy in the dawn.

1 The LORD is my shepherd;*

I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures*
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul*
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;*

for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;*

you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,*

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Antiphon 7: There will be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain. Weeping will endure but we dare to hope for joy in the dawn.

V: O God make speed to save.
R: O Lord make haste to help.
V: Our help is in the name of the Lord.

Let us pray.

Choose one of the following or other suitable prayer.

Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As we go through the trials of life, help us to realize that you are with us at all times and in all things; that we have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds us for eternity. In the security of your embrace we pray. Amen.

O God our strength in need, our help in trouble: stand with us in our distress, support us in our shock, bless us in our questioning, and do not leave us comfortless, but raise us up with Jesus Christ. Amen.

Silent Recessional

(Presiders leave in silence when ready)

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.


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