Last night I walked into the darkness of the church sanctuary, armed with a few packs of tissues, a bottle of mucinex, some eye drops, and a mug of tea. I could speak no higher than a whisper, and my cough ached in my chest. I probably should have stayed at home and slept the sickness away, but in all my stubbornness I did not want to miss the vigil.
In the Anglican tradition, we spend several hours on the night of Holy Saturday keeping vigil in preparation to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We enter the sanctuary in silence, still dark from our somber meeting the night before. The paschal candle signals the beginning of our watch, and we proceed to read, sing, and dance our way through the Old Testament – fitting together pieces of the narrative theme that lead us to the risen Christ.
It’s been an emotional week. This weekend marks the first anniversary of the death of a close friend, a constant reminder of the ache of loss and the darkness present in this broken world. Yet her death also served as a reminder of the power of Christ’s resurrection, the beauty, freedom, and light that come in His victory, and through that victory the grace and healing He extends.
I’d looked forward to the vigil as a time to worship God with all my senses – tasting the bread and the wine, hearing the readings of the Gospel, seeing the cross adorned in white lilies, touching the water in the renewal of my baptismal vows. But most of all I looked forward to singing; I love encountering God through the outpouring of my voice, no matter how terribly my own notes miss the song’s pitch.
Due to the onset of this nasty cold, most of my senses were significantly impaired. Rather than stand and boldly sing, I could only stretch out my hands and listen. This unfortunate circumstance, however, was pleasantly fitting. The season of Lent became for me a time to hear the voice of God, to seek rest by slowing myself down and quieting my own thoughts in order to listen. I listened to the voices of the women on either side of me, singing together in harmony. I listened to the soft whimper of the baby behind me, a sign of new life prepared to be loved by this church community. I listened to the violin and to the flute. And when the time came for the lights to turn on, I listened to the loud shouts of “Alleluia, He is risen! Alleluia, He is risen indeed!”
I stood and listened as all around me voices came together to proclaim the power of the night.
Oh death, where is your sting?
Oh hell, where is your victory?
The glory of God has defeated the night.
The emotions I longed to sing came out through my tears, a joyful celebration of life, of healing, of the goodness of God that extends from our time on earth now through to the restoration of the earth to come.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.