Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mama Bean is thinking about Easter - 2nd Sunday

One of my favourite church events as a child was the candlelight Christmas Eve service. It was special for many reasons: I got to stay up late, I got to hold my own candle and stare at the flame very closely with no one telling me to be careful, I could watch the wax melt and tilt the candle carefully to drip on to the protective cardboard. And I could look around and see the warm, mellow golden glow of candlelight suffuse the darkened sanctuary, normally so boring and white-walled. This is how I learned fire was magic. This is where music married liturgy (or as close as we got, anyway) to make worship. This is where I saw light change a room the way Jesus changed the world when he was born.

As my childhood church grew, that amount of candle power became too great a liability, and the service was gradually pared down, until the only fire present were the candles in the Advent wreath. So imagine my delight, when we attended our first Easter vigil mass last weekend, and everyone was given a delicate, thin taper to be lit during the Service of Light. It was so beautiful to experience that glow and warmth again, to see a whole room of people lit up by hope. That's what I felt the little flames were burning for: hope that he didn't die in vain, hope for the miracle coming the next day, hope for the freedom bought by these events we were remembering and celebrating and waiting for.

There is something extra solemn about hearing scripture read in the dark. Especially these very familiar passages of the Creation story, Noah's ark, the parting of the Red Sea, interspersed with reverent psalms, intense and quiet in the shadowed sanctuary. It really was elevated from merely reading the Bible to experiencing the Liturgy of the Word. It was a reminder, a nudge that perhaps merely reading the Bible should always feel this solid and heavy and real, not just one Saturday a year.

Duty-named-Bean called near the end of the Old Testament readings, and I used a pew in the back to feed him, when the passage from Luke 24:1-12 ("Why do you look for the living among the dead?") was read. This is when the lights are turned on again, and everyone sings a joyful hymn of praise that I think is called the Exultant. It was so beautiful to see these elements of music and light and symbolism used so purposefully to evoke the Meaning of Holy Saturday. Even if you're not really concentrating (as I was somewhat distracted by the little wriggler on my lap) your eyes and ears will See and Hear. I feel like these tangible sights and sounds deliver the message to the back of your mind, and down to your heart, even if the front of your mind wanders. I feel like even the most passive observer would subconsciously register the built-in metaphors of dark to light, silence to singing, despair to hope to Joy.

The importance of So Many Symbols was really driven home during the Liturgy of Baptism for the adult catechumens. Baptism is the central symbolic act of belief. (Can I say that? Can I make such a definitive declaration of theology? I can't say I really know what I'm talking about in any academic capacity, so please forgive me if I'm treading on theological toes.) I enjoyed the repetition in the ceremony, each person invited into the tomb of Christ to be reborn, each bathed in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Each cycle seemed to push down my heart with the gravity of what was happening, compacting my feelings of wonder into a very dense core of celebration for the baptized.

I kind of appreciated that we didn't pause to hear each person's individual faith story, as is commonly done in Protestant churches. I appreciated how the focus remained on God, on his work in their lives, on the straightforwardness and completeness of the rite as written, nothing added, nothing taken away. It seems fitting to become a member of the community by each undergoing this very standardized, simple, and significant process that is the same for everyone. No one's baptism or testimony is more special than another's - God works the same in us all. This was underscored by a re-lighting of our tapers while the whole congregation renewed their baptismal vows. I don't know if it was proper for us to participate in this, but I felt led to do it, and affirmed with peacefulness at each "I do." I hope it isn't considered wrong the way it would be for us to take the Eucharist or something. After this, blessed water was taken along the aisles and sprinkled over the crowd with braided palm fans - it was fun! For me, this was when the atmosphere really changed to Joy, even more than when the lights were turned back on during the Exsultant.

The last part of the Vigil is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which we of course abstained from. I tried not to stare, but I liked watching everyone go up to receive. Everyone had a wafer, but not everyone drank from the communal cup. Is this a hygiene thing? I guess in the age of H1N1... Then we all prayed the Lord's Prayer. It was so uplifting to hear hundreds of voices raised in these solemn yet comforting words. Some of my deepest impressions from the evening definitely come from these moments of communal action, these Catholic, universal behaviours. I understand now the value of standardizing these activities, so that we are all participating in the same story the same way and feel the connection and Love that comes with that. I can see how those raised in the tradition might find the pomp and circumstance sort of boring, and leaning toward legalism ("Do this to be a good Catholic and get to heaven.") and why other denominations have moved away from these things. But for someone watching from the outside in this situation, I was deeply moved by the community of the experience.

I am committed to celebrating the whole season of Easter, by reading the lectionary each week in preparation for Sunday. During Easter, a reading from Acts replaces the usual Old Testament passage, then a portion from Psalms, a reading from Revelations, and the Gospel of John. This week's readings contrast Thomas' doubt with Peter's determination. In this equation, I lean toward Thomas. During Easter, I want to feel the wounds to make it Real. I pray to have the faith to be blessed as "those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." I cannot imagine standing up against the High Council, as Peter and the apostles did, saying it is more important to obey God than any human authority. But the Psalms encourage me, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." And Revelations? I think this is meant to draw my mind forward. To consider the implications of the resurrection for the apostles in the past, or for my life and the Church today, but also for the world tomorrow. The Earth will be resurrected, too, and Easter celebrates this as the culmination of Jesus' work.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for helping me see the Vigil through your eyes. I regret that we were not with you to share such a holy experience. You captured everything that I love about it: the light, the hope, and the joy of the resurrection (however, much more succinctly and thoughtfully than I could ever imagine to express!)

    I am grateful to you for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is because you are challenging me to see what it means to be Catholic. I find that us "cradle Catholics" take so much for granted about our Church, and would even go as far as to say that those things that you find reverent, we might call dull. The solemnity and sameness of the Mass even a bit boring in its predictability; maybe devoid of some of the personality of the protestant church. However, through your eyes, you have brought me back home. Thanks. :)