For Tenebrae: A Liturgy for Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why


If you’re unfamiliar with Tenebrae, it’s a traditional Holy Week service that uses the gradual extinguishing of light to draw attention to the sufferings of Christ and the resident darkness of the world. It’s an occasion to meditate on and lament the brokenness of the human heart and the groaning of creation. The following liturgy is taken from Douglas McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy. We hope it serves you well this week in the darkness before the dawn. (If you’d like to use this liturgy in a group or church setting, you can download it here.)


A Liturgy for Those Who Weep

Without Knowing Why

LEADER: There is so much lost in this world, O Lord,
so much that aches and groans and shivers
for want of redemption, so much that
seems dislocated, upended, desecrated,
unhinged—even in our own hearts.

PEOPLE: Even in our own hearts 
we bear the mark of all that is broken. 
What is best in this world has been bashed
and battered and trodden down.
What was meant to be the substance has
become the brittle shell, haunted by the
ghosts of a glory so long crumbled that only
its rubble is remembered now.

Is it any wonder we should weep sometimes,
without knowing why? It might be anything.
And then again, it might be everything.

For we feel this.
We who are your children feel 
this empty space where some lost thing 
should have rested in its perfection,
and we pine for those nameless glories,
and we pine for all the wasted stories in our world,
and we pine for these present wounds.
We pine for our children and for their children too,
knowing each will have to prove how this universal pain is also
personal. We pine for all children born into these days of desolation—
whose regal robes were torn to tatters before they were
even swaddled in them.

O Lord, how can we not weep, 
when waking each day in this vale of tears? 
How can we not feel those pangs,
when we, wounded by others,
so soon learn to wound as well,
and in the end wound even ourselves?
We grieve what we cannot heal and
we grieve our half-belief,
having made uneasy peace with disillusion,
aligning ourselves with a self-protective lie
that would have us kill our best hopes
just to keep our disappointments half-confined.

We feel ourselves wounded by what is wretched, 
foul, and fell, 
but we are sometimes wounded by the beauty as well, 
for when it whispers, 
it whispers of the world 
that might have been our birthright, 
now banished,
now withdrawn,
as unreachable to our wounded hearts
as ancient seas receding down
some endless dark.

We weep, O Lord,
for those things that,
though nameless, are still lost.
We weep for the cost of our rebellions, 
for the mocking and hollowing of holy things, 
for the inward curve of our souls, 
for the evidences of death outworked in 
every field and tree and blade of grass, 
crept up in every creature, alert in every 
longing, infecting all fabrics of life. 

We weep for the leers our daughters will endure,
as if to be made in reflection of your beauty
were a fault for which they must pay.
We weep for our sons,
sabotaged by profiteers who seek to warp their dreams
before they even come of age.

We weep for all the twisted alchemies of our times
that would turn what might have been gold
into crowns of cheap tin
and then toss them into refuse bins
as if love could ever be
a castoff thing one might simply be done with.
We weep for the wretched expressions of all things
that were first built of goodness and glory
but are now their own shadow twins.
We have wept so often. 
And we will weep again. 

And yet, there is somewhere in our tears
a hope still kept.

We feel it in this darkness,
like a tiny flame,
when we are told

Jesus also wept.

You wept.

So moved by the pain of this crushed creation,
you, O Lord, heaved with the grief of it,
drinking the anguish like water
and sweating it out of your skin like blood.

Is it possible that you—in your sadness 
over Lazarus, in your grieving for 
Jerusalem, in your sorrow in the garden—
is it possible that you have sanctified
our weeping too? 

For the grief of God is no small thing,
and the weeping of God is not without effect.
The tears of Jesus preceded
a resurrection of the dead.

O Spirit of God, 
is it then possible 
that our tears might also be 
a kind of intercession? 

That we, your children, in our groaning
with the sadness of creation, could
be joining in some burdened work
of coming restoration? Is it possible
that when we weep and don’t know why,
it is because the curse has ranged
so far, so wide? That we weep at that
which breaks your heart, because it
has also broken ours—sometimes so deeply
that we cannot explain our weeping,
even to ourselves?

If that is true, 
then let such weeping be received, O Lord, 
as an intercession newly forged of holy sorrow. 

Then let our tears anoint these broken things,
and let our grief be as their consecration—
a preparation for their promised
redemption, our sorrow sealing them
for that day when you will take
the ache of all creation,
and turn it inside-out,
like the shedding of
an old gardener’s glove.

ALL: O Lord, if it please you, 
when your children weep 
and don’t know why, 
yet use our tears
to baptize what you love. 


For more information about Every Moment Holy, or to download this liturgy, click here.


  1. Jim McNeely

    This is incredible, thank you! We are going to read this for Good Friday at Bread and Wine Fellowship. You are kindred spirits indeed. Many blessings.

  2. Seeing 20/20 – Lucy Blogs

    […] or life or masks or color or race or justice or morality or …   GOD, I’ve started to weep without knowing why, my body is grieving all that has come this year and all that is still unresolved: Our aches and […]

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