I got exactly zero comments to last night's entry about Holy Week at St. Michael's. This doesn't surprise me at all. People who care about the religious side of Easter are busy celebrating it themselves, and people who don't believe in such things are probably turned off by the subject. I can't really blame anyone for that. I get antsy myself sometimes when people talk about religion, pro, con, or, especially, trying to get people to subscribe to a particular narrow view of The One True Religion. So don't think of tonight's entry as an attempt to turn everyone into Episcopalians. Think of it as a photo study of Easter Vigil customs at one particular church in Tucson, AZ. It'll be reasonably painless, I promise!
The Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday is technically called The Great Vigil of Easter, The Service of Light, and The First High Mass of Easter. The service itself is every bit as long as the name of it is. It starts outside the church, with the lighting of a small fire. The fire is used to light the Pascal Candle. Father Ireland (it's always Father Ireland for ome reason) lights the candles of the "torches" (candle-bearers), who in turn light little candles carried by the congregation. We enter the church as Father Ireland intones, "The light of Christ." We reply, "Thanks be to God."
Inside there is relative darkness for the first prayer. Then some of the lights come on and we hear some Old Testament readings: Abraham and Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, something called Salvation Offered Freely to All, and the most unusual of the bunch, the Valley of Dry Bones. "We only did four of the eight readings we could have done," Father Smith joked at the end of Mass, nearly three hours later; but it was true.
...and each man's son was baptised as well, a newborn and a kid.
Back inside the church, we hear in the the Gospel of Jesus' resurrection. This marks the end of the Vigil. The church is brightly lit, including the candles on the altar. The organ plays a fanfare. Two things we've done without during Lent - the ringing of bells and the word Alleluia - make their triumphant return. Those of us who forgot to bring a bell is encouraged to shake our keys!
I was going to say a few more words about Good Friday. I'm always sick on that day. I'm not quite sure why, but I think it has to do with stress and guilt. I'm technically supposed to fast, but I get too sick to my stomach of I don't eat. Even the thought of fasting, and the guilt of knowing I won't manage to do it, gives me digestive inconvenience. Plus there's all the stuff I'm not getting done this week while I'mat church, and all the stuff I haven't gotten done at work...you know, the usual.
But I was especially sick yesterday, particularly last night while serving as crucifer at the Good Friday service. I felt feverish, my gut hurt, my back hurt, and I was nauseous. But there I was, commemorating much worse suffering on my behalf. My discomfort seemed like a petty thing,so I did my best to ignore it and carry on.
I didn't feel that much better on Saturday, and in fact John didn't feel well today. Maybe we've got a bug. Plus I really think the diruetics and minerals contribute to the problem. I've been drinking "light" fruit juices and such all night. It seems to be helping a bit.
What about all this religion stuff? What does it mean to me? It means a lot of things - interesting rituals and people I like a lot, and the continual chance to try to connect with God. Over the years I've come to the conclusion that an important part of faith is just showing up. If you don't, there's nothing around to feed it. If you do, you may learn something or be inspired intellectually, even if you don't get some kind of emotional, transcendent experience, the kind I've always wanted but don't seriously believe in. Yet when I look inside for my mustard seed faith, it always turns out to be there after all.
I did have a moment in front of the cross on Good Friday that came close to having a major impact. It was that bloody wooden crucifix I showed you last night. As the crucifer, I happened to be lined up directly in front of it, just a couple of feet away, nobody between me and the wooden Jesus. I took the time to really look at it, and tried to imagine the real person, and what happened so long ago.
And maybe, just maybe, I started to feel a little better.
P.S. It's time for me to do some kind of new fiction over on Messages from Mâvarin. But it's very late, and I don't have the time or inspiration. So I'm giving you the first scene of the third book, The Mâvarin Revolutions. It's not at all Eastery, but it's already written. By next week, I hope to have something new for you.