By Maryjo Faith Morgan
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life."
There I sat, reveling in my solitude, observing the hushed preparations for Easter Vigil Mass in the dim quiet. Street lights cast deep shadows through the stained glass, and the lessons in the windows seemed distant from the stories colored there when the sunshine danced through. I could smell the sweet mix of perfume, incense, and lilies. The stillness held me softly. Ah, alone at last.
Rather than rouse our energetic toddler from his sleep, his dad had offered to stay home so I could attend the Vigil. I did not hesitate, more from a harried mother's need for some time alone than anything else.
Actually, when I was growing up, Easter Triduum's traditions had always held deep significance for me. Christmas could never come close to the drama of Easter's agony turned to joy, the very crux of our faith. I loved how through Holy Week we experience the humility and forgiveness of Holy Thursday's foot washing, and as children of God we are invited to the banquet table of Eucharist. Good Friday's Passion, with the extinguishing of candles, and stripping of the altar, always tore at my heart, sending me home pensive and introspective. Of all the once-a-year ceremonies and rituals packed into Lent, from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, the Easter Vigil had always been the most special.
This year, however, was not the same. Good Friday's fasting and abstinence had left me feeling tired, questioning if it was all still relevant to me. In the midst of feverish spring cleaning and preparations for Easter company, I'd boxed up the components for Sunday's feast anyway and participated in the Blessing of the Food Saturday afternoon. I'd even managed to squeeze in another trip to church for confession. Add a busy two-year-old to the mix and I was just plain exhausted, tempted to skip the whole Vigil thing.
Frankly, I came because I welcomed the opportunity for some downtime for me.
I was enjoying being by myself without the need to talk to or take care of anyone. Then Father said softly, "Be in the tomb. Feel its darkness in your soul. Participate mindfully. When we turn out the lights, listen to the silence with your whole self. When we bless the fire, know the reality of Resurrection."
At that very second, the church went black.
Even knowing it was coming, I was surprised at the pitch darkness. The red letters of the Exit sign did little to relieve the disconsolate weight of my human failings now pressing me. I realized there were no such exits in a tomb. Childhood fears of inky spaces niggled at the back of my mind.
Amazed such a large crowd could be so deathly silent, I felt alone. Not a hot-bath-in-fragrant-suds alone. More like forsaken-without-water-in-the-desert alone.
Then somewhere inside me came the crushing realization of what it all meant. From far away, I heard Father's unpretentious voice. He prayed the Blessing of the Fire. I could not have anticipated how my heart leapt with the eruption of flame in the container at the back of the church. From it, Father lit a single candle. He walked over to the last person in the last pew and lit her candle. She lit her neighbor's. He lit the person's next to him.
Flame to flame, candle to candle. The tiny flickering light moved row by row, slowly reclaiming the darkness. A golden glow grew to envelop us. In a pregnant silence, the first person in the front pew stood. He walked to the pure beeswax Paschal Candle on the altar and reached his candle aloft. His flame touched the wick.
Simultaneously, the "Hallelujah Chorus" soared to the vaulted ceiling as the lights blazed back on. Now we could see the altar, resplendent in crisp linens embroidered with gleaming threads, sumptuous in a sea of creamy fragrant lilies. Their very blossoms seemed to trumpet the instantaneous transformation from death to life.
We oohed. We aahed. Tears streamed down our faces.
The Liturgy of the Word sparkled that night as each scripture fell fresh on my heart. Eucharist fed my hungry body and nourished my receptive soul. The Baptism of the Catechumens flew by. I was astonished when we were already singing the recessional. The Easter Vigil was over. The plunge into darkness had opened my eyes to the Light.
My fatigued limbs hummed with energy. I surged with gratitude for all I had been given.
This was Resurrection. Yes, there was New Life, even for me .