Family Tenebrae – Remembering Good Friday

There is a natural build up to Christmas in our culture.  Even before Thanksgiving is over, the plans for Christmas begin.  As Easter comes around, our culture seems to pull back as they celebrate “spring break” instead.   Though we do see the pastel colors and little eggs and bunnies, Easter often tends to sneak up on us.  For Christian families both holidays have great significance and though much of our culture views them as very separate holidays, Christmas’ significance is completely wrapped up the fact that Easter is coming!

I want my boys to feel the Christmas to Easter build up and to have that connection deep in their hearts.   In order for that to happen, I believe the season of lent needs to be as big a part of our home as advent.  This will be a work in progress for sure.  This year we took time to read parts of Matthew together and talked about Jesus’ miracles and ministry.  We have also watched parts of The History Channel’s, The Bible, but it is very violent and does not contain the filters we usually have in place for our younger children.

This week is Holy Week and I plan on walking through the significance of the week with our boys so that we don’t skip right to the celebration and baskets but take time to remember Jesus’ great sacrifice.

When I was growing up, my church held a Tenebrae service that was a very powerful remembrance of Good Friday.  The word “Tenebrae” is the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows” and this service is a candlelight service in which the last words (or last moments if you read through one Gospel account) of Christ are read and after each reading, a candle is extinguished until we hear Jesus’ final words from the cross.  After a time of silence, a final candle of hope was lit and we would leave the church in silence.  I grew up loving that powerful experience of remembrance and it made Easter so much sweeter.Family Tenebrae GYF

Last year I decided to start a Family Tenebrae at home.   Here is what we did

1.  I gathered my list of bible passages and marked them in our Bible (see below). You can also just copy them from here and print them out or read them from your ipad or other electronic device. (This will be especially beneficial for the Tenebrae of Jesus’ last words since it does move through different gospels accounts)

2.  My husband took a thick block of wood (ours is about 1 foot long) and drilled 8 holes to hold the 7 candles representing Christ’s last words  and the 1 “Christ Candle” that is lit at the end (Ironically I actually had a box of Hanukkah candles that were the perfect size).Family Tenebrae Tools GYF

3.  I got out our candle snuffer.  This was key to the kids participation since they got to use a special tool to put out each flame (without accidentally blowing out others).

4.  I got out a small flash light to read the final bible passage when all the candles were extinguished. This is only used if you read the passage of burial after Jesus’ death.

On Good Friday night we all got ready for bed a little early.  The boys bathed, got in their pjs on, brushed their teeth, went potty etc.  I told them about what we were going to do and that when it was over we were going to go straight to bed without talking to show respect and remembrance for all that Jesus gave for us.  I expected this would be difficult for a 3, 5, and 7 year old and planned to be very flexible, but they did great.Family Tenebrae GYF 2

So once everyone was ready to begin, I let them take turns lighting the 7 candles (with my help).  Then we turned out the lights and we started with prayer.   I let my 7 year old read the passages and all the boys took turns extinguishing the candles when it was time.

Family Tenebrae GYF 3


Last year we read straight from the book of Matthew and extinguished a candle after each of Christ’s last moments following this order…

Matthew 26:30-46

First candle is extinguished

Matthew 26:47-56

Second candle is extinguished

Matthew 26:57-75

Third candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:1-5

Forth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:6-23

Fifth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:24-31

Sixth candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:32-44

Seventh candle is extinguished

Matthew 27:45-50

Moment of silence

Matthew 27:51-54

The 8th candle is lit in remembrance of the hope Christ left behind.

We all went to bed in silenceFamily Tenebrae GYF 4

Now that I have had even more time to prepare, this year we will be doing the Tenebrae based on Christ’s last 7 words, which is how it was done in my church growing up.  Here is the order we plan on following…

THE FIRST WORD – Luke 23:33-34

When they came to the place called “The Skull”, they nailed Jesus to the cross there, and the two criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said “Forgive them, Father! They do not know what they are doing.”

First candle is extinguished

THE SECOND WORD – Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals hanging there threw insults at him. “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying: “Don’t you fear God? Here we are all under the same sentence. Ours, however, is only right, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I tell you this: Today you will be in Paradise with me.”

Second candle is extinguished

THE THIRD WORD – John 19:25-27

Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Third candle is extinguished

THE FOURTH WORD – Mark 15:33-34

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, elo-i, lama sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Fourth candle is extinguished

THE FIFTH WORD – John 19:28

After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.”

Fifth candle is extinguished

THE SIXTH WORD – John 19:29-30

A bowl was there, full of cheap wine mixed with vinegar, so a sponge was soaked in it, put on stalk of hyssop and lifted up to his lips. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished”;

Sixth candle is extinguished


Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Seventh candle is extinguished

Moment of silence

The 8th candle is lit in remembrance of the hope Christ left behind…Easter is coming!

Again, we will all try to go to bed in silence

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1 comment

  1. Nicole March 28, 2013 at 8:26 am Reply

    You are amazing and I love your faith!!!
    Thank you.

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