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For Tenebrae: A Liturgy for Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why

If you’re unfamiliar with Tenebrae, it’s a traditional Holy Week service that uses the gradual extinguishing of light to draw attention to the sufferings of Christ and the resident darkness of the world. It’s an occasion to meditate on and lament the brokenness of the human heart and the groaning of creation. The following liturgy is taken from Douglas McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy. We hope it serves you well this week in the darkness before the dawn. (If you’d like to use this liturgy in a group or church setting, you can download it here.)


A Liturgy for Those Who Weep

Without Knowing Why

LEADER: There is so much lost in this world, O Lord, so much that aches and groans and shivers for want of redemption, so much that seems dislocated, upended, desecrated, unhinged—even in our own hearts.

PEOPLE: Even in our own hearts  we bear the mark of all that is broken.  What is best in this world has been bashed and battered and trodden down. What was meant to be the substance has become the brittle shell, haunted by the ghosts of a glory so long crumbled that only its rubble is remembered now.

Is it any wonder we should weep sometimes, without knowing why? It might be anything. And then again, it might be everything.

For we feel this. We who are your children feel  this empty space where some lost thing  should have rested in its perfection, and we pine for those nameless glories, and we pine for all the wasted stories in our world, and we pine for these present wounds. We pine for our children and for their children too, knowing each will have to prove how this universal pain is also personal. We pine for all children born into these days of desolation— whose regal robes were torn to tatters before they were even swaddled in them.

O Lord, how can we not weep,  when waking each day in this vale of tears?  How can we not feel those pangs, when we, wounded by others, so soon learn to wound as well, and in the end wound even ourselves? We grieve what we cannot heal and we grieve our half-belief, having made uneasy peace with disillusion, aligning ourselves with a self-protective lie that would have us kill our best hopes just to keep our disappointments half-confined.

We feel ourselves wounded by what is wretched,  foul, and fell,  but we are sometimes wounded by the beauty as well,  for when it whispers,  it whispers of the world  that might have been our birthright,  now banished, now withdrawn, as unreachable to our wounded hearts as ancient seas receding down some endless dark.

We weep, O Lord, for those things that, though nameless, are still lost. We weep for the cost of our rebellions,  for the mocking and hollowing of holy things,  for the inward curve of our souls,  for the evidences of death outworked in  every field and tree and blade of grass,  crept up in every creature, alert in every  longing, infecting all fabrics of life. 

We weep for the leers our daughters will endure, as if to be made in reflection of your beauty were a fault for which they must pay. We weep for our sons, sabotaged by profiteers who seek to warp their dreams before they even come of age.

We weep for all the twisted alchemies of our times that would turn what might have been gold into crowns of cheap tin and then toss them into refuse bins as if love could ever be a castoff thing one might simply be done with. We weep for the wretched expressions of all things that were first built of goodness and glory but are now their own shadow twins. We have wept so often.  And we will weep again. 

And yet, there is somewhere in our tears a hope still kept.

We feel it in this darkness, like a tiny flame, when we are told

Jesus also wept.

You wept.

So moved by the pain of this crushed creation, you, O Lord, heaved with the grief of it, drinking the anguish like water and sweating it out of your skin like blood.

Is it possible that you—in your sadness  over Lazarus, in your grieving for  Jerusalem, in your sorrow in the garden— is it possible that you have sanctified our weeping too? 

For the grief of God is no small thing, and the weeping of God is not without effect. The tears of Jesus preceded a resurrection of the dead.

O Spirit of God,  is it then possible  that our tears might also be  a kind of intercession? 

That we, your children, in our groaning with the sadness of creation, could be joining in some burdened work of coming restoration? Is it possible that when we weep and don’t know why, it is because the curse has ranged so far, so wide? That we weep at that which breaks your heart, because it has also broken ours—sometimes so deeply that we cannot explain our weeping, even to ourselves?

If that is true,  then let such weeping be received, O Lord,  as an intercession newly forged of holy sorrow. 

Then let our tears anoint these broken things, and let our grief be as their consecration— a preparation for their promised redemption, our sorrow sealing them for that day when you will take the ache of all creation, and turn it inside-out, like the shedding of an old gardener’s glove.

ALL: O Lord, if it please you,  when your children weep  and don’t know why,  yet use our tears to baptize what you love. 




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