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  • Writer's pictureChurch Muse

Darkness into Light - "When Jesus Wept" by William Billings

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Easter is the most important day in the Christian year. The week preceding Easter tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Without the Tenebrae period (Thursday-Saturday) there would be no understanding of the joy of Easter morning.

“Tenebrae” is translated, “darkness,” or sometimes “shadows.” In Christian churches, at a Tenebrae service, a series of candles are slowly extinguished until the room is in complete darkness, followed by a “Strepitus” - loud noise - representing the finality of when the stone is rolled over Jesus’ tomb.

A Tenebrae service can be on either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. There is an unresolved debate as to whether Jesus was crucified on Thursday or Friday, calling into question “on the third day, he rose again from the dead.” A bigger question for me is, “What was Jesus doing on Saturday?”

According to the Apostle’s Creed, “he descended into hell.” This phrase has always confused me. What? Why would the Son of God be sent to hell? But I looked into it - it is a phrase meant to emphasize the fact that Jesus was a human, like the rest of us. “…crucified, died and was buried. He descended into…death.” In other words, he experienced the ultimate finality that we all will. It illustrates that God sent his Son to earth as a human being. Thus, he lived as a human, suffered as a human, and died as a human. And he had human emotions - joy, exhaustion, anger, frustration, compassion, sorrow.

There are several instances in the Bible which tell us that Jesus wept. I suspect that God may be crying right now, watching the suffering and loss of so many of his children.

This simple early American song has touched me since I first heard it. It is beautiful when sung in a round, without accompaniment. It was written in 1770 by William Billings who is considered to be the first American choral composer.

As I have done before, I have included two versions of the song - a chorus singing the melody in a round, and very nice piano arrangement. (Pardon the photo bomb at the end of the piano version!) Wishing for you light and joy. Happy Easter!

“When Jesus wept, the falling tear, in mercy, flowed beyond all bound.

When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear seized all the guilty world around.”

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