Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sunset service

When I began attending Episcopalian services, one of my favorite discoveries was Easter Vigil.  I'll never forget my first one.  The scripture readings went on and on, and the priest commented in his homily, "If anybody tells you that we don't read the Bible in the Episcopal church, just have them come to Easter Vigil."

Growing up Southern Baptist, we didn't much go in for the eve of anything.  Yes, Christmas Eve by candlelight, but never at midnight.  Being a good church member in my youth meant attending three times a week -- Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  Episcopalians tend to go more all in a few times a year, with services every night and day during the holiest weeks of the year.

One of the most underappreciated aspects of Christian tradition -- of any set of cultural rituals, really -- is the practice of waiting.  Tonight we wait for Easter, when this season ends and the next one begins.  We're more familiar with waiting for Christmas, but the principle is the same.  It's a moment of transition, and those moments always require care and attention.  That's why we keep watch through the night to see the change take place and bring in the new day safely.  I always feel like I'm witnessing something mysterious and uncommon when I attend these vigils -- like the rest of the world is sleeping while everything transforms without their knowledge.

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