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A tenebrae service typically takes place in a dark room lit by a number of candles. A series of Scripture readings chronicles Jesus’s final week, ending with his burial. After each reading a candle is snuffed out, until only the Christ candle remains lit. This final candle is carried out of the sanctuary to symbolize Christ’s three days in the tomb.

Dating back to the 9th century, Tenebrae is one of the oldest Christian traditions for commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. The word tenebrae is Latin for “shadows.”

Stations of the Cross Tenebrae Service

This station-based variation on a traditional Tenebrae service will help worshipers try to imagine what Jesus was feeling before he died. Each station of the cross represents an event from Christ’s final hours. Worshipers read a passage of Scripture about the event in Jesus’s life and reflect on what it means. Some stations invite worshipers to respond to the reading with an activity or to experience the story visually. As they leave the station, they snuff out (or turn off) a candle.

The tenebrae service is a silent, solemn event. Encourage worshipers to go through the stations in complete silence.

At Each Station, You’ll Need:

  • Bibles or printout(s) that display the Scripture reading
  • Instructions for the worshipers to respond to the reading
  • Enough candles (real or battery-powered) per station for everyone to snuff one out

Station 1: Jesus prays at Gethsemane

Scripture reading: Luke 22:39-46

Supplies and set-up

  • A table and chairs
  • Paper
  • Painting supplies

Station instructions

Read Luke 22:39-46 and reflect. Ask yourself:

  • Have I ever been in a position where God was calling me to do something that I did not want to do?
  • Would I be willing to lay down my life for another?
  • Spend some time in prayer around these questions. Kneel if you are able.

Station 2: Jesus is arrested

Scripture reading: Luke 22:47-53

Supplies and set-up

  • A table and chairs
  • Paper
  • Writing utensils

Station instructions

Read Luke 22:47-53. Reflect on a moment when you have betrayed Jesus or when you were betrayed by someone you love. Write a prayer to God that expresses your feelings of sadness and regret, and your desire for forgiveness.

Station 3: Peter disowns Jesus

Scripture reading: Luke 22:54-62

Supplies and set-up

  • A table and chairs
  • Paper
  • Painting supplies

Station instructions

Read Luke 22:54-62. Use the tools provided to express a time when you gave in to peer pressure and disowned Jesus. Use your senses and freely paint what you are feeling.

Station 4: Jesus stands before Pilate and Herod

Scripture reading: Luke 22:66-23:12 and Matthew 27:23-25

Supplies and set-up

  • Large bowl filled with water

Station instructions

Read Luke 22:66–23:12 and Matthew 27:23-25.

How would you feel if someone washed their hands of you? How would it feel to have no one on your side?

Take a moment and place yourself in Jesus’ position. Imagine the heartache. Imagine the feeling of abandonment. Jesus had done nothing wrong, yet they still cried, “Crucify him!” And Pilate literally washed his hands of Jesus.

We are responsible for the blood that was spilled. We are responsible for crucifying Jesus.

Take some time for meditative prayer.

Station 5: Jesus is sentenced

Scripture reading: Luke 23:23-25

Supplies and set-up

  • Display a gavel or something similar to symbolize the judgment that has been passed on Jesus

Station instructions

Read Luke 23:23-25.

It’s easy to assume we would not have acted the way the crowd did in this passage. But when we’re angry, we often make choices we regret. And when we express our anger in a group setting, our feelings can build on each other.

Have you ever judged someone unfairly because you were angry? How have your actions impacted other people when you’ve been angry? Ask God to help you to see people as reflections of Christ.

Station 6: Jesus is crucified

Scripture reading: Luke 23:26-43

Supplies and set-up

  • A cross; could be made of pieces of lumber or a paper cutout attached to the wall
  • Sticky notes
  • Writing utensils
  • A way for people to listen to “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns

Station instructions

We have all sinned. It was our sin that held Jesus to the cross. Because of our sin, Jesus gave his life as a willing sacrifice so that we may have forgiveness and eternal life.

Read Luke 23:26-43 and use the headphones to listen to the song “Who Am I?” Then write your name on a sticky note and stick it to the cross.

Station 7: Jesus dies

Scripture reading: Luke 23:44-46

Supplies and set-up

  • Basket of large carpenter nails

Station instructions

Read Luke 23:44-46. Take a nail as a physical reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made on your behalf.

Station 8: Jesus is buried

Scripture reading: Luke 23:50-56

Supplies and set-up

  • Candles at this station should be unlit, unlike at other stations
  • One or two lighters needed (if using real candles)

Station instructions

Read Luke 23:50-56. Remember that this is not the end of the story! As believers, we know that Jesus is risen. Light a candle in the hope of the resurrection and leave in quiet meditation.