Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Vigil: Images of Service

Our Easter Vigil service begins in darkness. In our chapel, the center of our life, our sacred space, we gather at the back and wait. Then finally comes the moment when the door opens and we see the new fire, the consuming power and presence that cuts through the darkness of yesterday’s death. From the primal fire we light a new candle. One by one each candle is lit and we sing “lumen Christi, light of Christ” and respond “Deo Gratias, Thanks be to God.” The Christ candle leads the way through our sacred space to the front, to the moment when all the lights will come on and we resurrect the “alleluia” that had been buried during the sacrifice of Lent.

Decorated with lavender banners and Easter lilies the music and words celebrate the great passage from death to life that happened this night. The son is raised, light returns to our world, life over death, hope over despair, we can collectively breathe again.

The Easter Vigil is an experience of mystery. We enter in the dark, in the reality of death, hopelessness and loss. But suddenly, somehow and somewhere, in palpable darkness that consumes with fear and the unknown, a spark is kindled and we emerge into light.

On the Easter Vigil, the holiest of nights, we celebrate Jesus who has preceded us into this night. We go into the darkness not celebrating Christ, the risen one, but Jesus of Nazareth whom we proclaim to be like us. Jesus entered into night as fully human as we are. He entered this night without some magical prescient knowledge of light but in a fully human, fully consuming awareness of being eaten alive by a darkness of abandonment.

This is the Jesus who went before us, as blind and stumbling and fearful as we are. This is the God we proclaim, who shares our experience of death. The power of Easter is not the power of easy answers known before hand, it is the power of willingly going into the unknown darkness as did Jesus. The power of Easter comes when we fully enter the reality of the incarnation. God shares our deepest human despair in order to show us the deeper hope, the deeper reality which is that death is not the end but instead we will all die in the knowledge that God has gone before us into death will accompany us into death. God fully shares our humanity in death and then transcends the limitations of our humanity in the resurrection. It is Christ who emerges from the tomb, no longer bound by human frailty but transformed, sharing the reality that we were all created to share deeply in God’s life.

The Easter Vigil is the night to celebrate the depth of this mystery, the passing from death to life. But the reality of Benedictine community, whether cenobitic community, oblate community or family life, is that together, every day we descend a little deeper into the darkness and every day we see another spark of light. A little bit of us dies as we give up our self-centeredness, our need for control, our illusion of autonomy. In turn a spark of light, a spark of the presence of God is kindled, the candle fights to catch hold and slice a hole in the darkness. As in the Easter Vigil each of us has only one small candle that is short, stubby, recycled and drippy, prone to blow out in the slightest breeze. But together in our communities of little sparks with our flat, sharp and off-key alleluias we join together in becoming the powerful new reality that Jesus has gone before us into death and leads us together into a new a creation Together we are held by Christ and in turn we hold one another as we journey into the light of the resurrection guided by the presence of many small, inadequate candles that have been lit from the one flame of Christ’s light that continues to pierce all darkness.

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