It is too dark for me when I walk inside. I immediately regret that I have come into this stillness, my skirt with its ripped silk lining announcing my arrival with a soft rustle. I can’t see who is in front or behind me. The twelve candles, the twelve flickering, bright disciple-symbols dance and snap to my right. I sink into the hard wood of the pew and wish I was driving home singing to country music.
It is too quiet for me. I can hear every distracting thought rumbling towards my mind – that there is so much work to do when I get home, not enough time, that I’ve eaten not enough or too much, that this or that difficult question has been raised in a conversation with a friend. I shuffle my feet, feel my fingers clutching at the rim of the pew in front of me. The wood is worn smooth from the sweat of prayer and impatience; and I wonder how many hands before me have regretted coming heree, this place where a Spirit hovers over us, protecting, keeping watch.
Tenebrae means darkening shadows, I read, and this service is about the disappearance of the light.
I’m more afraid than I have been in a long time. We stand, think the Lord’s Prayer in silence. I can feel myself close my ribcage, catching my breath over, and over. Tonight, One who was obedient goes up to be offered for me, the disobedient, and I am afraid. I am afraid of Him.
The cantors begin. The notes are not sweet but searing. They land, each one, it seems, closer and closer to my pew. Their voices lament with Jeremiah and I try not to listen, but in the silence nothing else can be heard except these words – O Lord, nothing but these words –
“You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you.”
Candle after candle is snuffed out. Light after light disappears from the altar, and still it is darker, and still, my soul clings to the idea that perhaps I am not one of these twelve bright, brief flames. Perhaps I am faithful to Him, perhaps I know better, perhaps, perhaps…
“You will flee, Hilary.”
The Spirit whispers. A rib seems to snap, a fleeting, sharp pain in the middle of my chest. No, Lord. It couldn’t be. More candles go out.
And Jesus says again: “You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you.”
We stand. My heart pounds in my chest, and I am on the run from that voice – I am fleeing from the truth that I have been the first to flee from Him – but there is nowhere to go. Where can I go?
They hide the Christ candle. The sanctuary is finally, utterly dark. Tenebrae means darkening shadows.
A gun sounds behind the altar. A symbol, I know, of earth and heaven torn apart by this death, but I stop breathing and begin to cry.
I sob through the silence. I sob through the slow return of the One candle. I sob and sob, tears in my hair and fogging up my glasses and I am breaking apart, because the same voice that said, “You will flee, Hilary,” has just whispered,
“And so, Hilary, I will tear earth and heaven apart to save you.”
A gun sounds, the Christ candle returns. A gun sounds, I sob and sob and sob, for my flight, for His salvation. I whisper back to Him – O Lord, I need saving.
He tears heaven and earth apart to save us.
To save me.
I leave the church still in tears.