On Holy Saturday, I went to an Easter Vigil for the first time. I’m embarrassed to admit that, because I’ve attended a church with an annual Easter Vigil for a long time, but I’ve never attended. I had no idea what it was. Honestly, the name doesn’t make it sound too wonderful, and I used to belong to a denomination that never used that term, so… Anyway. I finally attended.
On Friday I spent time with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. All day Saturday I felt the stirrings of sadness and grief that Jesus had to die, but also the anticipation that Easter was about to arrive and I knew the end of the story. It had a happy ending, even though that middle part was awful. It was a strange day. But the Easter Vigil spoke to that, the between space from Friday night to Sunday morning.
Since I’ve only attended one Easter Vigil, I can’t tell you if my church does it anything like other churches. We started outside lighting a fire. A deacon lit a candle with that fire and took it inside. We prayed and sang with lit candles. For some reason, singing praise songs with a candle in hand is way cooler than any other method, so that felt special. We heard Old Testament passages that spoke of Jesus’ future sacrifice, prayed, and sang. We remembered our baptisms and rejoiced with someone renewing his baptismal vows.
At one point, I watched two female musicians leading the songs. I don’t remember what we were singing, but one musician was in tears, and the other was beaming with the brightest smile, and I had to laugh. And cry. Those reactions, so different and yet both so honest, both so acceptable, completely summed up my emotions that day as well as the feel of the service.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t react like I should. Should I cry more? Rejoice more? What if I’m not doing this right? When I react strangely, does that mean I’m not taking things seriously? Do I not understand what was done for me? Is there something wrong with me?
But the reality is that what Jesus did was hard and sad. My sin is awful. But He went of his own accord, not hating me for making him go, but loving me and excited and rejoicing in the chance to bring me home. So. Tears are good. Smiles are good. And both at once–that’s certainly a possibility.
An Easter Vigil ends with the return of light, the return of life. In our church, the children–and a good many adults– grabbed instruments from a basket on the way in. During the last songs, the room filled with the sounds of maracas, tambourines, even a triangle struck by a very excited little boy. By the time we left, my ears were ringing. I was reminded of Jesus’ words a week before, when he said that if his people didn’t rejoice when he entered Jerusalem, the rocks themselves would cry out. The night of our vigil, it sounded like the entire world was rejoicing, with voices and drums and maracas and stomping feet and twirling children with instruments in hand.
Maybe the rocks themselves cried out, for Jesus rose from the dead as a true king, and we were there for a wild coronation night. But if they did, we were making way too much noise ourselves to hear them.
That night we walked into our church weeping, lost and alone because we were still in our sins, because the man who would be king had failed and died.
We left with hope and a future, the king ascended to the throne once and for all.
From now on, the Easter Vigil is on the calendar, non-negotiable, every year. And I might have some words with everyone who NEVER TOLD ME what to expect, because I missed a lot of years. But again, God’s timing was perfect, and he met me in the between place and spoke to my spirit with His Spirit at a time he knew I was listening.
I don’t know why that surprises me any more.