Apr 13, 2010

Easter Vigil

This is a continuance of my Holy Week observance, the first part is here.

Good Friday at noon I took our dog for a walk. It was fittingly murky outside: neither cold nor hot, rainy or sunny. I found myself counting my steps, praying for Jesus to have strength. Yes, in human time Christ won the victory long before I was born. But in eternal time, I could actually walk the Via Dolorosa with him. “You can do it, I found myself saying out loud. “We are standing with you.” And I could weep.

We attended Good Friday services that evening. Rather than an elaborate sermon, they staged reading of the events. They were short a reader, so Pastor Anne roped me into participating. I got off easy: I read Pilate and the chick who accused Peter of being one of Jesus’ cronies. Poor Larry had to sit in the congregation and shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Try reading that and walking out clean.

There was little music to mark the evening. We walked out in silence. It wasn't until we were safely in our car and down the road before either Larry or I spoke. Larry said very little. He only managed to choke it out, "All my life in evangelical churches they never captured it. Tonight they got it right."

Saturday I thought about what it was like for the disciples to have witnessed the previous 24 hours. They were off huddling somewhere in shock. Their leader had been assassinated. All those plans about the kingdom of God coming, arriving, it was gone. All those hopes about justice returning? Gone. And all those moments with their friend? Over. Done. He was dead. We sit from our confident promontory in 2010 A.D., we know how it all turned out. But they didn't know. Not yet.

We attended Easter Vigil on Saturday night. We were told to bring bells. (In what church service can you actually say, "More cowbell?") This is my favorite service of Holy Week. You arrive in darkness. Jesus is still dead. The only light in the church is that of the candle you hold. We read four lessons: The Creation, the Flood, Ezekiel, and Isaiah 53. I don’t know why the Church chooses these passages, but I wondered if it were this: In the midst of this yet-unredeemed tragedy, God reminds us of all he has done up to this point:

Remember how I made this world and called it good? Remember that even when I wanted to wipe out evil entirely, I spared Noah? Remember when you thought you were dead and all hope was gone, that I breathed life back in you? And remember your idea that the Messiah was gonna be a kick-ass rock star? Think again: it’s right there in the scriptures. He’s going to be led like a lamb to the slaughter. For your sins he will be chastised. And by his stripes you will be healed.

At this point the candidates were baptized, and we reaffirmed our own decision to die to Self. Then the newly baptized were presented to us: they stood in a line, in candlelight, at the front of the church.

Then, while the church was still in darkness, Pastor Anne charged out to the front and shouted, like Mary rushing back from the garden: “HE’S ALIVE! CHRIST IS RISEN!” All the lights in the church flipped on; the organ fired up, the choir shouted and we rang our cowbells. The words of Wesley’s hymn never seemed so alive to me.

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Sunday morning I went to the grocery store to pick up some items for Easter Brunch. I couldn’t help but hum the tune as I was walking down the aisle. As I left the store a woman smiled and said, “Happy Easter!”
I replied, “Happy Easter! Christ has risen!” I don’t know if that shocked her, but it should have. The reality is shocking: Christ has opened paradise. Allefreakinluia!


Kate said...

It was really special to be able to attend the Easter Vigil with you. It was so different than anything I had experienced before. Trust me, we will have bells (including cowbells) at my church next year. I will make sure about that.

The Ezekiel part stuck out for me. You summed it up perfectly. "Remember when you thought you were dead and all hope was gone, that I breathed life back in you?" That is exactly how I feel. Later, I went back and read more of that passage. It also says that God will take their heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. I needed that.

Susan Isaacs said...

Thanks Kate. It was a privilege to read that passage, and kind of a kismet thing: an important moment in my life which I wrote about in the book. So I pray it encourages you now as much as it encouraged me then.

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