Good Friday

(from the Lutheran Church of the Master’s monthly publication, ‘The Mast’)

A common service for Good Friday is Tenebrae (Lati n for “shadows”, or “darkness”).

Sometimes this term is applied generally to all church services on the last three days of  Holy week. More specifically, however, it is used of the Service of Darkness or Service of Shadows, usually held in the evening of Good Friday.

Again, there are varieties of this service, but it is usually characterized by a series of Scripture readings and meditation done in stages while lights and/or candles are gradually extinguished to symbolize the growing darkness not only of Jesus’ death  but of hopelessness in the world without God.

The service ends in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle, carried out of the sanctuary, symbolizing the death of Jesus.

The worshippers then leave in silence to await the Easter celebration.


Good Friday services have fallen on hard times in many churches these days. Many churches do not have services on Good Friday.

Those that do have seen a large drop off in attendance.  This is true for the congregation of which I am a member.

Why would you think that is?

What good can come from a service such as this?

29 Responses

  1. Hi Steve,

    The same phenomena occurs in my city…In fact, this year the Pentecostal church that I attend did not have a service. I do not mind, personally, I probably would not have gone.

    Do you think that because this service is so ritualistic and “dark” that people do not want to attend?


  2. Hello MistiPearl,

    I think you have hit upon the reason, MP.

    People want to be uplifted. They do not want to hear anything “negative”.

    Death is a downer.

    Well…yeah! … Death is a downer. It was a downer for a completely innocent man who had to die in place of the ones who really deserved that death.

    It is a downer that we too will have to die. But the wages of sin are death and there will be no escaping it.

    MistiPearl, I think you are exactly right. It is “dark” and many do not like anything so ritualistic (even though whatever form of worship they like to do has a certain amount of ritual to it) that it reminds them of Roman Catholicism.

    Thanks MistiPearl!

    – Steve

  3. People want to glory in the Resurrection without considering the sacrifice. I find this very sad and indicative of the self-centeredness of the American church. Without Good Friday, Easter means NOTHING! If we don’t contemplate the suffering of Christ for our sins (physically and spiritually), we won’t understand the glory of the empty tomb.

    This seems like it would lead even more to a works-based salvation if we don’t ponder and focus on the time when Jesus nailed sin to the cross.

  4. Darius T.,

    I think you are right, Darius.

    Without death, there can be no resurrection. No Good Friday…no Easter.

    “This seems like it would lead even more to a works-based salvation if we don’t ponder and focus on the time when Jesus nailed sin to the cross.”

    I hadn’t thought about that aspect of it, but it makes perfect sense that that would be the logical outcome.

    Thank you, Darius!

    – Steve

  5. Why is attendance down for Good Friday services?

    A simple and general answer is that people are putting other things before God. Whether it is selfish desires to what they want to hear or do.

  6. Craig,

    So true. people do not value God.

    They will make time for everything else, but God. He is pretty low on our list.

    He is lucky if we will allot Him one hour on a Sunday morning…let alone having to come during the middle of our busy week.

    And if we would miss American Idol or Desperate Housewives…well…we have our limits!

    Thanks, Craig!

    – Steve

  7. I always regret that we don’t sing the excellent Lent and Good Friday hymns more than we do in the year. Last year we felt so deprived of them that we pulled out the stack of old hymnals we had bought once for $1.00 each, and sang right through the section.

    The young people were just agape. I told them we felt deprived and this was a great thing.

    Which makes me think. We are visiting this afternoon. Maybe I’ll take that stack along, in case we want them.

    Better get that casserole done, too, like right now.

    Blessed Good Friday And Easter, then!

  8. I sometimes try to get under people’s skin by calling it Good Wednesday/Friday. That has to do with the view that the crucifixtion was actually on Wednesday, before the Thursday special High Sabbath day, and Jesus was in the tomb a full three days and three nights.

    All that aside, I do beleive there is value in having a Good Friday or Wednesday/Friday service. If I don’t go to one it is usually because life has been so hectic that by Friday all I want to do is crash… One year I did go to a Service at an Evangelical church where one by one the lights were turned off. At the end in that final darkness I was in tears… But ressurection is not ressurection unless first there has been death.


  9. Well, the crucifixion was on “Friday” and the resurrection on “Sunday.” Not that it really matters.

  10. Though sensitive to symbolism per se, I do appreciate the symoblism and serious tone of Tenebrae services.


  11. Steve:

    I work with a young adult group that meets on Friday night and you’ve convinced me to do a service like this. That’s what we’re going to do tonight.

    I’m sure I could come up with some good passages to read, but let me know if you have something your church has done.

  12. Brigitte,

    There’s nothing like those good old Christ centered hymns.

    It sounds like you struck gold in finding them (for just a $1 !!

    Get that casserole done, and have a wondeful visit, Brigitte! A blessed Good Friday and Easter to you as well!

    – Steve

  13. Bill N.,

    A service of Tenebrae seems to always get to me, as well. It really brings home the depth of humanity’s sin, and our own complicity in that horrible death.

    And it brings into great relief the love of God for those same sinners who nailed Him to that bloody cross.

    God bless you, Bill.

    – Steve

  14. The One who deserved the love of the Father, suffered the wrath that I………the one who deserves no love…..deserved!

    He justified me the wicked one! It was not the nails or the spear or the crown of thorns that saved me. Jesus took upon Himself my sins and died under the holy wrath of His Father……………for me!

  15. Brad,

    Thanks Brad.

    A blessed Good Friday and a happy Easter to you, sir.

    – Steve

  16. Roger,

    I think it is a great thing that you will do something for your congregation for Good Friday, Roger.

    We read passages from John’s passion narrative. We read a passage, then lower the lights a little bit. We repeat that over and over going through the passion narrative, so by the time we have read to the end of the narrative it is almost completely dark. We have one candle lit at that point, and then it is taken out of the sanctuary. We then leave to return to a light bright Easter morning with lots of flowers and loud joyous hymns.

    However you do it, Roger, I’m sure it will mean a lot to your people.

    God bless you, Roger.

    – Steve

  17. I’ve got to run.

    Please continue the discussion.

    Have a blessed Good Friday, my friends, and a joyous Easter!

    Yours in Christ,


  18. Ike,

    Amen, Ike!

    Thank you, sir!

    – Steve

  19. Roger,

    I forgot to mention that we do have candles (not sure how many but they correspond to the number of passages read) that we extinguish one at a time after each passage is read.

    Our lights are on dimmer switches. I guess if you don’t have dimmers you could just shut them off the best way you can.

  20. Good Friday is as much God’s day as Easter.I wouldn’t miss it anymore than the Christmas Eve service.

  21. Some day we will make every day God’s day. I love the sound of Tenebrae.

  22. perhaps the reason attendance is falling at any church service is that people are simply exhausted

    but the exhaustion could be from CFS (Christian Fatigue Syndrome) or simply from the fact that in this day and age we are all expected to do so much more with the same or less resources

    and for many people, Easter is a chance for a short holiday with a few days off work and other regular commitments

  23. Steve,
    I used your line in my sermon tonight, or something close to it anyway. The one to the effect that, “Without death, there can be no resurrection. No Good Friday…no Easter.” I paraphrased, but that was the point. I had never been a part of a Good Friday service before tonight, where I was the one who planned and led it; I probably should have read this post earlier. I didn’t know anything except to focus on the cross of Christ and that is what we did. Gradually darkening the room wouldn’t work as well in our sanctuary with the skylights. But the service was really moving for me personally. I have the audio up on my church’s webpage and will link it from my blog later tonight.

  24. […] of theoldadam renown,  has some great words about the traditional Good Friday service and what it means as well as why it isn’t observed as much anymore.  Really good stuff for […]

  25. Jim R.,

    Good Friday is one hour (give or take) out of the entire year.

    I too wouldn’t miss it. But many do. Last night we had better attendance that usual for a Good Friday service (encouraging) but still woefuly sparse.

  26. Willohroots,

    “Some day we will make every day God’s day.”

    True story. He will make that a reality in our lives.

    ‘Tenebrae’ does have a nice ring to it…for a word with such “dark” meaning.

  27. Kel,

    I think you are right. People are exhausted. There are only so many hours in the day.

    But those hours are being used for something.

    There are over 160 hours in a week and many folks cannot (will not) set aside a couple of them for the Living God.

    But we will surely make sure we get in plenty of time for everything else.

    I think are priorities are a little messed up.

    Thanks for stoppin’ in mate!

    – Steve

  28. Jeff,

    Glad you had a Good Friday service, Jeff.

    That is a wonderful thing for your congregation (and you).

    I’m sure it went right to their hearts.

    We all just keep borrowing each other’s lines. Those great words of Law and Gospel just keep reverberating as passed down to us from scripture and the Saints who have gone before us.

    We might put a new little twist on them now and then. But the Lord keeps using them all for His purposes.

    I’ll check out your Good Friday sermon (from your site).

    Thanks Jeff!

  29. It’s interesting that you posed this question…
    “Good Friday services have fallen on hard times in many churches these days. Many churches do not have services on Good Friday.
    Those that do have seen a large drop off in attendance. This is true for the congregation of which I am a member.
    Why would you think that is?
    What good can come from a service such as this?”

    I addressed this very subject in my Good Friday message…
    [audio src="" /]

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