I once cracked up on Maundy Thursday.
I was a Field Education student with two young boys and one little baby, a drifting away husband, and a pretty bad postpartum depression. My capacity to cope at home was diminishing, but at the church, I still felt competent, giving me the illusion that I was just having a tough week but nothing was really wrong.
Never mind that I spent the drive home from seminary on Tuesday contemplating where I could spin off the road, and then talking myself out of it because what if I didn’t actually die? Never mind that I never slept that night as I tried to convince my husband that we needed to reach a conclusion this minute about our future.
Never mind that I was broken up on Wednesday, frantic, calling everyone I knew hoping someone would spend some time with me and help me just get through the day.
On Thursday I got up and got dressed. I attended a parent-teacher conference and appeared, I think, reasonably normal. I conducted a communion service at a retirement home. I picked my kids up and took care of them until their dad got home, then went to church to prepare for the evening service of Communion and Tenebrae.
And that’s when I had to admit it.
I had never even been to a Tenebrae service, and the concept was new to me. We had a chance to practice beforehand. All I had to do was snuff out a candle, do a reading, and walk out the door. I’m sure it was a beautiful service. The readers gathered behind the communion table with its lit candles. When my turn came to read, I was to snuff out the candle, go to the pulpit, read the reading, then walk out the side door. But just receiving the instructions was so complicated, and I remember standing shaking in the pulpit, and the walk around the outside of the church, before I slipped in the front door to hear the rest of the service was so dark, so isolated, so broken.
I was broken.
I knew it when I got home that night, I knew that I was empty and shattered. It took two days for my husband to get the point, two days to begin getting some help, two days of anguish and paralysis and misery and an Easter spent in the tomb of the hospital.
That was the first of many Tenebrae services, and some have been painful reminders, but now that I am a pastor it feels different. Perhaps it is because I was so broken myself that I understand the importance of the symbols now, the diminishing light, the readers who walk away as Jesus’ friends fled his side. I pour out all that I have and all that I am, hoping to bring people closer to those hours of betrayal, desertion and death.
Last night, I was the priest carrying the Christ candle out of the sanctuary and closing the door, leaving the people in the dark brokenness of grief, ancient and modern.
They really do leave in silence, most of them, and when my children came through the door to find me putting my robe away, my little girl was weeping. I held her as she cried. Finally she whispered, “Mommy, there are lots of sad things in the Bible, but this is the saddest.”
Without really feeling it, we have nothing to look forward to on Sunday.