We have always loved the experience that holy week offers. When we were in pastoral ministry we always tried to offer unique worship experiences during this time. Our absolute favorite services of the year were the Service of Shadows held on Good Friday followed by the Resurrection celebration on Easter Sunday. The Service of Shadows was a reflective time designed to help us embrace the horror of Good Friday’s events. We sometimes forget that the gift of time has cleansed the brutality of that day. The original Disciples of Christ did not have the benefit of knowing the light of Easter. They saw the love, unity and fellowship of Maunday Thursday rapidly gave way to a very different experience on Good Friday. An experience of shock and fear, of loss and betrayal. The Service of Shadows was designed to be a progressively dark service which ended in complete gloom. The heaviness of the service brought the worshiper into deep feelings of disrepair much like the feelings elicited by the events of the first Good Friday.
The drama of the service was quite simple. It was held in a room that was completely dark (this took some doing, covering the windows and even the cracks between the doors). The only light in the room were nine candles that were arranged and lit in the front. The candles were all black wax candles except for the white candle (which represented Christ) in the middle. No music greeted the worshipers only dim light and a pensive atmosphere. A series of signs explaining the nights events were placed in the foyer for people to read before going into the darkened sanctuary. After the people had gathered in silence and the sanctuary doors were shut the readers who were dressed in black would walk solemnly to the front and take there places on the stage. The air would fill with expectation as the first reader slowly approached the candles. The reader would then read a scripture and blow out a candle, slowly making their way back to their seat. The congregation would then be given time to reflect on what was just read to them before the process was repeated until the eight black candles were extinguished. The sanctuary would fill with the stale smoke from the smothering candles and each reading plunged the congregation a little further into darkness. Then the last scripture would be read. This scripture was always about the death of Christ. After the last reading all of the readers would solemnly walk out of the sanctuary carrying the lit white candle. They would walk slowly like a funeral procession until they reached the doors and left with the candle. This would plunge the congregation into complete darkness and disrepair. After about thirty seconds a loud crash would be heard and the sanctuary doors would be opened. The people would be escorted out by row and left to silently depart and nurse their feelings of loss and sadness until we met again on Easter Sunday to wash the darkness away. The astute worshiper would notice that all of the candles form Good Friday where present in the Resurrection service. The Christ candle would be lit and placed prominently for all to see. Around the triumphant Christ candle were the broken pieces of the black candles. Christ has broken death!
We miss being able to put together meaningful worship experiences like the Service of Shadows. If you would like to have your own reflective reading here is the order of service for one recent year. We suggest you find a serine spot and in your own Bible read the scripture below slowly and out loud. Take time to be pensive and try to place yourself in the place of the first Disciples. Embrace the pain of Good Friday and explore the depth of your grief until hope washes away your sadness on Resurrection Sunday!
Welcome to the Service of Shadows
Tonight you will experience the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in a truly gripping way. As you enter the sanctuary this evening allow your senses to be filled with the sights and sounds of the tragedy of Good Friday. Tonight’s service is meant to be felt, not enjoyed. Our sincere hope is that the hopelessness of the Crucifixion will dominate your thoughts until it is washed away by hope at our Resurrection service on Easter morning.
Gathering in Silence
As you enter into the sanctuary tonight please do so in silent reverence. Meditate on the gravity of Jesus’ sacrifice. Reflect on the Scripture as it is read aloud. Allow the sights and sounds of the Crucifixion to grip your heart. Try not to speak, try to immerse yourself in the experience.
The Experience of Shadows
The Shadow of Betrayal is Cast.
The Shadow of Desertion is Cast.
The Shadow of Lethargy is Cast.
The Shadow of Violence is Cast.
The Shadow of Denial is Cast.
The Shadow of Cynicism is Cast.
The Shadow of Irresponsibility is Cast.
The Shadow of Mockery is Cast.
The Shadow of Death is Cast.
Leaving in Silence
As you depart the service of shadows please do so in silent reverence. Allow the weight of what you have just experienced to permeate your heart and mind. Dwell on this experience; let it consume your thoughts until the shadows are dispelled at the service of light on Easter Sunday morning.
Please remain seated until you are led out of the sanctuary by an usher.
May God watch and keep you in this somber time.
In His Grip,