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« The Point Radio: Holy Week - A Time to Serve | Main | Aliens, Yes. But Strangers? »

April 08, 2009

Remembering death

Smoldering_wick For those of us, like me, who were raised as evangelicals, this is a very celebratory time of year. Last Sunday, many Christians celebrated the Triumphal Entry, the symbolic and prophecy-fulfilling time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of his people and a road paved with palm fronds. This coming Sunday, we will stand in church and sing hymns and choruses announcing the risen Christ. Jesus seems to float effortlessly from triumph to triumph.

We evangelicals sometimes miss what our more liturgical brethren experience in the week between these two celebrations. The church that used to be on the campus of my alma mater holds a Tenebrae service each year. This service of "darkness" follows the path of our Lord to the cross. While different churches follow different patterns for this service, most follow the traditional symbolism of gradually darkening the lights in the church as the service progresses until, at the end of the service, the entire sanctuary is plunged into darkness. In our campus church, after a few minutes of darkness, someone would light a solitary candle to symbolize the hope of the resurrection.

What I discovered as an evangelical was that allowing myself to experience the grief and sorrow of Christ's betrayal and death made Easter Sunday exponentially more celebratory. Remembering for a short time that the world was dark, that the Hope of Ages had been crucified and lay dead and buried in a stone tomb made the wonder and joy of that empty tomb a few days later burst out of my heart in a way that Palm Sunday had never done.

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar. The first time I watched it, my jaw dropped at the ending. If you've seen the musical (or at least the 2001 production), then you know--it ends with the crucifixion of Christ. No resurrection, not even a solitary candle burning to promise light at the end of the dark tunnel.I was stunned that anyone could tell the story, however artistically, of Jesus Christ without the resurrection. Once I got over my shock, I realized that, intentionally or not, Rice and Lloyd Webber had created a musical for Tenebrae. Now, I make it a point to watch Jesus Christ Superstar every year during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. It's my own, perhaps quirky, way of bringing a liturgical tradition into my evangelical life. 

What about you? Besides Christmas, this has to be the most tradition-laden time of year for Christians. What traditions--traditional or otherwise--heighten your understanding and experience of the Easter season? 

(Image courtesy of Mark Mallett) 

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Rolley Haggard

My “tradition” is of the “otherwise” variety. I meditate on the work of my Savior and God and Hero and Comforter and Confidant and Best of Friends – and then, as I am made more deeply aware of the stunning implications of His unspeakable love, I write about it, effusive fool that I am.

The Last Enemy’s Death
---© Rolley Haggard

And why should I fear Death, my Enemy,
Whose dagger even now is at my throat,
Since in my dispatch lies the guarantee
That I, not he, shall be the last to gloat?
For I through Christ shall rise up where I fell
And grimly face my Enemy again
And send him shamed and sorrowing to Hell
To surfeit on his due of mortal pain.
Since like the angry bee he stings but once,
And doling death, to death becomes the prey,
How shall I fear such puny impotence
Who weakly strikes and quickly flies away?
Some Enemy! He fancies he has won,
When killing self is all that he has done!

Gina Dalfonzo

I love your poems, Rolley. Thank you so much for sharing them.

My tradition has come to be participating in my church Easter pageant every year. Some liturgical churches (for whom I have a lot of respect) might see this musical drama as an odd sort of evangelical ritual. But at bottom, I think, we're doing much the same thing -- re-enacting Holy Week -- in different ways. And despite the knowledge that we're acting, and aided by costumes and makeup and lighting and all the other trappings, there is something extraordinarily moving about sharing the stage with someone playing Christ and speaking His words!


We have the Tenebrae service. Very somber and reflective. When it is over everyone files out in silence and the silence continues into the halls of the church, a place where there is usually much conversation and interaction. It is very moving.


Haven't seen Jesus Christ Superstar for a long time. In it's day it was one of those things that got me to start the thinking that led to my salvation. If I remember correctly, at the end of the movie there is a shepherd walking across the horizon who is back lit by the sun. My husband and I have always thought that that was added to the movie to give a hint of the resurrection. At least that's what we like to think!


Christians worshiping as they do in heaven have had passion plays for many, many centuries. And we first evangelicals have worshiped in continuity with the saints both Old and New Testament for over 400 years.

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