Tenebrae, from the Latin word for “shadows,” has been observed in the church of Jesus Christ since the fourth century. During the service, the readings recall the events that led Jesus to the cross, and we will extinguish eight candles, one by one, dramatising the suffering and death of Jesus. The diminishing light symbolises the fading devotion of the disciples and the sin of the world. At the end of the service the sanctuary will be dark. Following “Were You There,” one candle will be relit, symbolising the hope of Jesus’ promised resurrection.

To fully participate in this service you need to be able to reduce the level of light in your room 8 times. I recommend beginning with 8 lit candles in an otherwise (as) dark (as you can manage) room. Each time you see 🕯, extinguish one candle.


Beloved in Christ, as we enter into Holy Week once more like,
we can already hear the violence that threatens, 
in the thunderous enthusiasm of the palm-waving crowd.
Therefore let us read and mark in holy scripture 
the tale of Jesus’s passion.
But first, let us pray for the needs of the whole world:
for compassion on earth and forgiveness among all his people; 
for unity and kinship within the Church built in the wake of his betrayal. 
And because he suffered, 
let us remember, in his name, the poor and hopeless,
the denied, the aggressed, and the betrayed; 
those in agony and them that mourn, 
those accused of crimes and those imprisoned, 
the dying and the bereaved. 
Lastly, let us remember before God 
all the peoples of the Holy Land,
still searching for peace, recognition and compassion this day . 
These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, 
in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done, in Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

The Shadow of Betrayal

Mark 14. 10-13, 16-21 One of you will betray me…

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’

🕯 The first candle is extinguished.


The Shadow of Agony and Arrest

Luke 22:39-48, 54      He knelt down and prayed…

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ 

When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance.

🕯 The second candle is extinguished.



  1. My heart sheweth me the wickedness of the ungodly *
    that there is no fear of God before his eyes.
  2. For he flattereth himself in his own sight *
    until his abominable sin be found out.
  3. The words of his mouth are unrighteous, and full of deceit *
    he hath left off to behave himself wisely, and to do good.
  4. He imagineth mischief upon his bed, and hath set himself in no good way *neither doth he abhor any thing that is evil.
  5. Thy mercy, O Lord, reacheth unto the heavens *
    and thy faithfulness unto the clouds.
  6. Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains *
    thy judgements are like the great deep.
  7. Thou, Lord, shalt save both man and beast; How excellent is thy mercy, O God *and the children of men shall put
    their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
  8. They shall be satisfied with the plenteousness of thy house *
    and thou shalt give them drink of thy pleasures, as out of the river.
  9. For with thee is the well of life *
    and in thy light shall we see light.
  10. O continue forth thy loving-kindness unto them that know thee * and thy righteousness unto them that are true of heart.
    11.  O let not the foot of pride come against me *
    and let not the hand of the ungodly cast me down.
    12.  There are they fallen, all that work wickedness *
    they are cast down, and shall not be able to stand.

Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;*
as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.

The Shadow of DENIAL

Luke 22:55-62        I do not know him…

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

🕯 The third candle is extinguished.


The Shadow of ACCUSATION

Mark 15:1-15                  Are you the King of the Jews?

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

🕯 The fourth candle is extinguished.


The Shadow of Mockery

Matthew 27:27-31            Twisting some thorns into a crown…

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

🕯 The fifth candle is extinguished.



LUKE 23:32-43            Do you not fear God?

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

🕯 The sixth candle is extinguished.



Father, forgive these soldiers who crucify me: they know not what they do.
The divine love sees far with compassion,
with justice tempered by mercy, not knowing how not to forgive.

Today you shall be with me in Paradise:
for you have met your moment of truth.
The divine love embraces those who are humbled,
who have faced their fear and admitted their need.

Friend, so much loved, see, your mother:
mother, so much loved, see, your son.
The divine love is enfleshed in human loving,
as we receive each other as gifts

Facing the terror of abandonment he cried:
My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?
The divine love is all but overwhelmed,
obscured by the power of pain.

Stricken, parched, in agony he cried, I thirst, I thirst.
The divine love groans through the worst,
never letting go, never giving up.

My task is completed,
it is finished, fulfilled, it is done.
The divine love has kept faith,
shining with light at the very moment of death.

He commended his whole being to God,
to the One from whom he came.
The divine love draws us close:
we can trust that all shall be well. Amen.

The Shadow of Death

Mark 15.33-39                He breathed his last…

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

🕯 The seventh candle is extinguished.


The Shadow of BURIAL

John 19.38-42                Now there was a garden…

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

🕯 The eigth candle is extinguished.



Gracious God, you know all persons in their deepest being and love them in their brokenness. Grant us the grace to recognise each person to whom you introduce us as unique, precious and sacred. By the power of your spirit form our community into a sign that love is possible, revealing your goodness, compassion and forgiveness in our daily lives. As we seek to remember that Jesus came to dismantle the walls between the Strong and the Marginalised, so that all may have life in fullness. help us to trust in your truth, that the essential value of a person lies in the simplicity of their hearts. Amen.


Almighty God, who, in your tender love for the human race, sent your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take our nature upon him, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his passion, and also, be made partakers of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. 


Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 


The almighty and most merciful Lord guard us and give us his blessing. Amen

Now relight one candle,
symbolising the hope of his promised resurrection. 

The service is ended.

A priest and poet in the Scottish Episcopal Church, exploring the workings of the Holy Spirit in Banchory .