Broken: A Tenebrae Service with Visuals

The Road of Suffering According to the Gospel of John
In considering art pieces that would capture the events leading to Christ’s death, the idea of using simple images and fabric came to mind. Textiles are flexible, offering texture and color. Each of the art pieces is made of cut fabric that has been woven or pinned together and stitched onto a base fabric. They were backed with quilt batting, then machine-stitched to add color and form. The color palette is limited for all seven pieces: Blacks and grays create a dark, foreboding atmosphere; teal contrasts with blood red.

The Art Pieces

A set of seven sixteen-by-twenty-inch frames, with two sets of mattes in black or white, gives us the flexibility to vary visuals easily. The frequently-changing photographs and art pieces hang in the foyer.

After all the works measuring 10½ x 13½ inches were completed, they were matted with black and put in the frames.

The first two pieces, Fragrant Devotion (John 12:1–7) and Foot-Washing Power (John 13:1–17) were inspired by sermon titles from the Lenten series Pastor Ed Gerber preached based on the book of John and Dying and Rising with Christ: The Theology of Paul the Apostle by Terrance Callan. In the pieces, the burial perfume and cleansing water transform into puddles of blood foretelling Christ’s death. Woven fabric strips in most of the pieces foretell the completion of Jesus’s work on earth. In Christ we are redeemed, from brokenness to wholeness and from death to life.

Passover (John 13), inspired by Jean C. Wetta’s oil-on-wood panel Bread and Wine, is set on woven strips of black fabric. Jesus invites his disciples to share in his death by offering them bread and wine, his body and blood.

Jesus predicted Judas’s betrayal (John 13:18–30). The silver coins counted out for Judas are spilled in Thirty Pieces. Jesus asked Peter, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38). Peter’s denial of Jesus after vehemently insisting he would never disown his master is depicted by the rooster standing alone crowing into the night sky (John 18:27) in Denied. The question to contemplate in these two pieces is whether we are so different from Peter and Judas, guiltily denying and betraying the Christ who laid down his life for us.

Jesus’s Crucifixion (John 19:16–27) is represented by the cross, made from woven strips, and large spikes. From the first piece to this one, the backgrounds have become increasingly dark.

The last piece in the series of seven shows rivers of blood and a crown of thorns indicating the death-giving life in Jesus’ cry from the cross: “It Is Finished” (John 19:30).

This series of artworks hung in the foyer from the first Sunday in Lent through the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service, during which images of the art were projected on a screen as the corresponding Scripture passages were read.

For a joyous Easter Sunday celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, brightly colored fabric behind white mattes filled the frames.

Note: The author gives permission to readers to use these images, including for displaying and projecting at worship services. Separate permission is required from Jean Wetta to use her Bread and Wine.

A Service of Tenebrae

The Road of Suffering According to the Gospel of John

The Act of Entrance

Worshipers enter quietly.

Seven readers are seated on black stools with moderate lighting. Six dark candles and one white candle, the Christ candle, are lit on tall black stands.

As the story unfolds, readers extinguish candles, and sanctuary lights, if used, are dimmed simultaneously.

Musicians are in place, lights clipped on stands. Song slides are light gray on black background.

Songs are not introduced, except musically.

Opening Song: “Meekness and Majesty” LUYH 157, SNC 109, WR 97

Emphasis: Bow down and worship, for this is your God.


The Purpose and Meaning of Tenebrae

The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” is a meditation on Christ’s suffering. It traces the story of Christ’s journey to the cross, his suffering and death. As lights are extinguished and complete darkness gradually surrounds us, we will hear readings from the book of John and sing contemplative song texts. The harsh sound of the cymbal, the strepitus, will remind us of Jesus’ time of death. In anticipation of Christ’s resurrection, the Christ candle will be returned at the end of the service. Some congregations prefer to end the service with Jesus’ death and return the Christ candle at the beginning of the Easter service.

Opening Reading: John 11:1–27

Emphasis: Let us also go, that we may die with him.

The Act of Confession and Communion

Prayer of Confession


During the Tenebrae service we celebrate communion. Some churches may choose not to include this in the Tenebrae.

The Act of Remembering Christ’s Suffering

Reading: Fragrant Devotion, John 12:1–7

Reading: Foot-Washing Power, John 13:1–10

Reading: The Betrayal, John 13:18–30

The first candle is extinguished.

Song: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” LUYH 172 (vs. 1–2), PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262, GtG 218

Reading: Jesus Arrested, John 18:1–11

The second candle is extinguished.

Song: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended” LUYH 172 (vs. 3–4), PsH 386, TH 248, WR 262, GtG 218

Reading: Denied, John 13:31–38; 18:15–27

The third candle is extinguished.

Reading: Jesus before Pilate, John 18:28–40

The fourth candle is extinguished.

Reading: Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified, John 19:1–16

The fifth candle is extinguished.

Song: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” LUYH 168, PH 98, PsH 383, TH 247, WR 284, GtG 221

Reading: The Crucifixion of Jesus, John 19:17–25

Reading: Psalm 22:1–22 (read by a male voice from back of sanctuary)

The sixth candle is extinguished.

Sonnet: “Jesus Falls the First Time” (read by a female voice from back of sanctuary)

—Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year. London: Canterbury Press, 2012.

Song: “My Song Is Love Unknown” LUYH 148 (vs. 1–5), TH 182, GtG 209

Reading: The Death of Jesus, John 19:28–30

The Christ candle is extinguished and then carried out of the sanctuary during the strepitus.


After a time of silence following the strepitus, the Christ candle

is lit and returned to the sanctuary where it will remain for Easter Sunday morning.

Reading: The Burial of Jesus, John 19:38–42

Reading: Last stanza of “My Song is Love Unknown” LUYH 148 (vs. 6), TH 182, GtG 209

(read by a female voice from back of sanctuary)

Here might I stay and sing of him my soul adores:

never was love, dear King, never was grief like yours.

This is my friend in whose sweet praise,

this is my friend in whose sweet praise

I all my days would gladly spend.

Song: “What Grace is Mine” Kristyn Getty

(sung pensively, not triumphantly; optional solo on verse 1)

An Act of Hope


We go into the dark

But there is a light that shines that not even death can put out

We go into the dark

but even now new life is dawning

We go into the dark

in the sure and certain hope that Christ is with us

—Howard Carter

Please leave in silence.

Grace Groot serves as worship and arts coordinator at Willoughby Christian Reformed Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

Reformed Worship 126 © December 2017, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.