Imagine the dark night and a grassy street corner, surrounded by gently swaying trees.
Imagine fifty-plus men and women, some in gray robes, others in formal attire, standing around a raised metal pit. There is a group of men, dressed in beautiful embroidered robes standing in the center. A huge candle – so large that the robed man holding it up high in the air seems at moments like he might drop it. He doesn’t.
One man comes forward out of the dark, out of the group of all the others, and takes up flint and steel, and with barely two strikes there is a spark.
Then, gently, as if no one is watching, as if there is no timetable, as if he might be out in the country sitting alone under the stars, he tends the spark. Blowing softly, adding small tinder, adding kindling sticks, building a wooden house, like a Little House on the Prairie house, around the small growing flames. There is no wind.
This is the night.
The fire grows, incense is lit, the very large candle is lit – all from this same fire come from rock and metal. Prayers are sung and the people then follow this candle, lit from the fire that came from nothing in a solemn silent line – through the darkness, across the grass, across the road, not even noticing the men in bright orange vests blocking traffic, not noticing the very curious stares from passers-by. They should all come along.
And then there are small candles everywhere, in the people’s hands. At the door of the building, the flame is spread, person to person, on these slender white candles, through the large darkness of this high ceiling-ed place. And the darkness, slowly, very slowly turns over – and it falls away more with each new flame.
Me, with my four children, we climb the stairs up to the balcony seats my husband has saved. We try not to burn the woman’s dress hem that is climbing in front of us. We try not to trip on the very dark stairs. And we come up (these stairs never seemed so many or so steep) and find our seats and look out and down below and see all the light that has already spread. The building, this Church we see each week, is warmer and warmer and brighter and brighter. All coming from the same fire.
This is the night.
We hear the man sing the solemn verses. It is mournful and joyful all in one. And his voice seems ageless, pulling together all the family of the world through the ages into one. At least for a moment.
And we sit and hear the stories told, from the beginning. Some, in languages we do not understand. Some readers with accents. Some voices loud and bold, some quiet and prayerful. With prayers and Psalms in between. It seems to last for years or generations. Or from the beginning of time.
The Nigerian woman, reading in the dark, with a small flashlight for light – her voice trembles, ” ‘Here we are!’ shining with joy for the Maker. Such is our God; no other is to be compared to him; he has traced out the whole way of understanding, and has given her to Jacob, his servant, to Israel, his beloved son.”
And then, after over an hour of reading, praying, singing. In the darkness (our candles are out). Out of the DARKNESS comes the ALLELUIA.
The lights blast on, and we are surprised, even though we knew it would come. We are surprised and squinting, and rubbing our faces and signing from our bellies and looking around to smile at each other. Even the strangers behind us.
This is the night.
And there is preaching and Baptisms and the oil of Confirmation and Holy Communion and grown women hugging and smiling and full of joy like little girls. And men, dressed like they’re going to the country club, with well trimmed beards and shiny shoes, walking back down the aisle with their arms slung around each others shoulders. Heads down with smiled whispers. Not ashamed in their joy. Because they are finally home. To the Church.
We celebrate, all through the night, from darkness to light, this man who conquered death over 2000 years ago. And conquered it forever.
And through all of this, these children of mine – yes, they wiggle and squirm and drop wax on each other and make the kind lady with the white veil behind us reach around instinctively to still a little girl’s wavering hand. They curl up on the floor and fall asleep on friends and their tummies are achy and they can’t find their song sheet and they have to go pee and it’s hot.
But it is so crammed full of beauty and meaning and depth, they can’t help but absorb some of it, despite the late hour and their childishness. It’s better than any book, any movie, any dramatic adventure they could imagine.
And they make it all the way to the end, and want to go get a cupcake with these happy Easter people when it’s all done, almost four hours later.
We get home at 1 AM and my son, he says it best of all, “Mom. After going to Easter Vigil, there’s no going back. That is where I’ll always be.”
And no matter where it is, anywhere in the world, a small group or large – It is and always will be beautiful.
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
(from the Exsultet, the Easter Proclaimation)
That’s the best way I can think of to help your kids fall in love with the Church. That, and go again and again, and never forget, each and every day, that this is the reality of our God. This beauty is hanging behind everything, waiting for us. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12) We will find ways to remind ourselves, in our lives, in our words, in our prayers and sacrifices, so that we all will know and remember that it is true.
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exults,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples….
(all photo credits go to Randy Light)