Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Great Vigil


The church was pitch black, even as the last of the daylight was fading outside. Because there had been a near miss with the new fire at some point in the past, Steve, our sexton, was outside on the church steps kindling an inferno in a flower pot. He had big barbeque gloves on and smoke billowed into the narthex, even through the closed glass doors. The whole scene was so funny I chuckled out loud and got 'shushed' by a woman I didn't know. Maybe her Easter hadn't come yet.

I love the Great Vigil. It is another long service. On Saturday it was almost two hours. There is a lot going on, between the Old Testament readings, the candles, the first Eucharist and the Hallelujah Chorus. But the part I love best of all is the Baptisms.

This year, we had one. It was someone I knew. An adult who has been coming to Grace for quite some time. He has been coordinating the soup kitchen on Saturdays and is a sweet and gentle young man. At first I didn't realize it was he who was getting the dunk. I thought perhaps it was a member of his family. But when no baby appeared in the front pew, I began to put it together.

In our church, we sing the litany of the saints during the procession to and from the Baptismal font. The choir sings the names of the saints and the congregation sings back "stand by us now".

Saint John the Baptist.... stand by us now.
Saint Mary Magdalen.....stand by us now.

D.was walking with his sponsors back towards the font.

I love adult baptisms best of all, because I know what it is like to get socked by the Holy Spirit as an adult. I relive my own baptism and feel great joy at theirs. And I feel privileged to be a witness to the beginning of their transformation.

The next morning, at the Easter service, I approached D.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" I asked.

"No," he laughed.

"The Holy Spirit is going to kick your butt..."

We laughed and hugged.

Because we both knew it was true.


Anonymous said...

Adult baptisms are my favorite too! There is something special about someone suddenly coming forward and asking to be dunked. You can't help but wonder what miraculous things are going on in their lives!

Your endurance for sitting at services far surpasses my own. This week I am happy to seek quiet times with close friends. I rather like to think of it as preparation for Pentecost, which is by far my favorite church holiday. Don't get me wrong, Easter is a BIG deal. And Christmas. And for me this year Maundy Thursday, as I think about administering the sacraments on my own in not too long. But I cannot shake the incredible miracle of Pentecost, and the coming of the Spirit that sustains us as community. And really if we make a big deal about the 40 days before Easter, shouldn't we also make one for 40 days after?


Anonymous said...

Really nice reflection, Rachel. Easter Vigil is my favorite service of the entire church year! I LOVE IT! I think us Anglicans must be "fire-challenged". We had a problem a couple of years in a row getting a good fire built. This year, we got smart and used a fire pit that someone graciously hauled to the church parking lot. Of course, you could almost get high sitting in the church since the front door had been open some--the smell of charcoal lighter was overpowering! We had some kind of fire though!


Rachel said...

My endurance surprises even me. Frankly, every year I wonder if I can really make it through all those services. And then I get on the train and ride it all the way through to the end of the line.

During my first Holy Week as a Jesus Freak, my friend, upon learning I was going to attend the Saturday vigil after having just gotten through the three hours AND the evening Good Friday services said,

"You really are a glutton for punishment."

I laughed. But I knew it wasn't true. There was no punishment involved. I was experiencing it for the first time and wanted to savor every last second.

I agree that Pentecost is incredible. I LOVE it, too. I was confirmed on Pentecost and my kids were baptized. The Holy Spirit sustains us, for sure.

Rachel said...

Hey Bryan,

So far, the best 'New Fire' I have seen is at the Anglo Catholic church I attended for a couple of years during Holy Week. They actually had a flint and steel and made a tiny little flame in a brazier of some sort near the baptismal font. It was just enough to light the Paschal candle, didn't burn the place down and couldn't possibly have competed with the usual incense!

Happy Easter!