Saturday, April 3, 2010
Tonight I kept Easter Vigil at Holy Trinity Church. I’ve made friends with a retired doctor and his wife who live just on the other side of the fence and up the hill a ways and they help me through the services and keep me from feeling completely awkward (awkward is such an awkward word). And what a wonderful time I had!
I am such a hopeless romantic and I love old traditions and this service was frankly one giant tradition the whole way through, but done by elderly and young every day folks and led by a vicar with a ponytail and large reading glasses who likes to smile. High Church was never so welcoming and dear.
There was a thick sense of anticipation and excitement building in all the members as they spilled out of the church into the rain to start their Easter bonfire. One of the parish girls had an umbrella that lit up in little specks of light that changed colors every few seconds. It was hard to hear what the clergy were saying through the cacophony of rain hitting all the umbrellas, but a saw them swing a gold gilded case of incense and then spend quite a bit of time attempting to get the wet papers in the bin to light amidst all the rain. However, light eventually did triumph over darkness, the bonfire was roused, and a large white candle with a red cross in the middle was lit from the flame. This candle was carried back into the church with us all crowding in behind carrying unlit little candles with paper rings around them to catch the drippings. The one candle flame in the hands of the vicar was the only light in the church. Slowly we made our way down the middle isle repeating a chant about Jesus being the Light in the darkness. When he reached the front, he turned and the cleric behind him lit his little candle from the bright flame and so the flame passed on, not diminishing, but growing until everyone’s candles were lit and the church was no longer in darkness. What a beautiful image this was.
As we held our little flames, we sat and stood for readings from the Old Testament and sang hymns and chants about God’s righteousness and our need for Him. The excitement built. Something was about to happen. The vicar’s large and bushy eyebrows that can be seen from the very last pew were rising higher and higher in anticipation. And then we arrived in the New Testament readings where the stone has been rolled away, the tomb was empty, and Mary met Jesus alive. He is Risen! Suddenly everyone started shouting and laughing and shaking noisemakers that they had all brought for this moment. I took the keys out of my pocket and shook them until my knuckles turned red. Everyone was so full of joy, but none more than the vicar and his new cleric who has a pierced ear and I’m betting a theatre background. They were truly beaming and even knocking on their podium. All the lights were turned on and the bells pealed.
There were more hymns, prayers, and beautiful songs sung by the choir after this. Then communion was taken and I have decided that either I am just a bad pick and a cheapskate when buying wine or the churches here just have really good wine, because I’ve never had such good wine than the sip during Holy Eucharist. After this, we all followed the vicar to the back of the church chanting “Jesus is my Light; my Light and my Salvation” and stood around their fount full of water. After prayer and our recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, the vicar took a cup of the water and some green shrub of some kind and began flinging the water over all our heads. He started with his cleric and gave him a firm thwack, which made the cleric wince and laugh. The vicar laughed too. It wasn’t done lightly or in clownish mimicry of something that is to be “sacred,” but it was just a simple honest response of good humor and an obviously true outpouring of joy and lighthearted excitement.
I have never felt such an excited holiday spirit for the true meaning of Easter than I did tonight. It had nothing to do with eggs or bunnies or chocolate. It had nothing to do with big glitzy productions. It was just a small country parish full of down to earth families that were excited to sing, read, listen, and shout Scripture and rejoice that Jesus is risen and therefore there is hope in the world yet.
I think I could love these people very much. And for that, I wish the world were smaller. I have always wanted to travel and experience new things and meet new people. However, the more places I go, the more experiences I have, and the more people I meet and learn to love has meant that my heart just finds more ways to break when I have to leave. If the world were smaller, perhaps I could be everywhere at once and wouldn’t feel so ripped apart all the time. This is my unforeseen dilemma. But it also gives me one more reason to anticipate Heaven, because that is how I imagine it will be; a huge world of people and yet all continually connected without anymore separation for ever and ever… “World without end, amen.” (This is what many of the songs and chants end with and I think they are simply beautiful words.) I am still too young to personally know too many people that are already there, although I do know more than I would wish to, but the heartache of just being separated by the distance of this vast earth is enough to break my heart sometimes. And this is just a sweet added bonus to the fact that Heaven will finally be the place where all our tears will be wiped away by the hands of Jesus as we finally get to see Him face to face.
This Easter has made me happy and homesick all at once.
Jesus, come soon!