Seen and unseen

THE THIRD ANNUAL TENNEBRAE, Service of Shadows, will be just that.

Parishioners will be led through the last days of Christ’s life in increasing darkness while listening to a live radio-style drama performed by a troupe of Broadway actors and church members.

Held on Maundy Thursday, April 21, the drama will lead listeners from the last supper through to the crucifixion and burial, what Pastor Terry O’Brien calls one of the darkest moments in history. Unlike typical live performances, the Tennebrae service does not provide visual images, but rather lets visitors form their own.


“Your mind forms its own images of what’s going on as you listen,” said Jeanne Jones, who directs the performance. “You’re not just watching the events unfold in front of you – you actually feel as if you’re a part of it. It’s very powerful.”

Though Biblical scenes have been the subject of more Western art than any other single subject, the lack of any period representations of Christ’s final days mean any visualization of these events is completely subjective. Since all Christians have their own associations within their mind’s eye, O’Brien says presenting the story in this way allows people to experience the story in a very personal way.

Between scenes, musical pieces will be performed by local artists, and Steve Massardo will operate sound equipment. Though musicians practice for several weeks leading up to the performance, the actors arrive in Saugerties only one day before they are to go on, leaving time for only two or three rehearsals. This makes the professional actors important. They receive the script ahead of time, and come prepared.

The drama begins on the day of the last supper, and as the timeline progresses toward the crucifixion and death of Christ, the church is gradually darkened, with lighted candles being extinguished after each scene. By the time the performers are enacting the crucifixion, the church is in almost complete darkness. The Christ candle, which always stays lit, is carried out of the sanctuary to signify his death, but then brought back in, leaving the audience with a sense of hope. Visitors leave the church in silence.

“You can literally hear a pin drop in the sanctuary,” said O’Brien.

The performance ends after Christ’s death, rather than carrying the events through to Easter Sunday and the eventual resurrection. This, O’Brien says, allows parishioners to experience the joy of Easter Sunday more fully.

“For me, and I think for most of the people who experience the Maundy Thursday service, it makes going to the Easter service so much more profound,” said Jones. “You’re actually feeling that progression.”

“It adds depth and meaning to the Easter service,” O’Brien added. “Easter becomes more about the resurrection, and less about the Easter protocol.”

The Tennebrae service will be held at the Reformed Church of Saugerties on Main Street, at 7:30 p.m., on April 21. All in the community are welcome to attend.

Illustration above by Will Dendis.