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In case you were curious about the Great Vigil ...

it was splendid. I smoked up the joint proper, and Low Church types who amble in tomorrow morning are going to realize that something happened there.

Yes, this is another Anglican post, and those of you who are non-Anglican, unchurched, or unbelieving can take a pass until the next post. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

I also read the Creation story tonight, as I have at nearly every Vigil service I’ve attended for the past thirty years*—this time joined by a young woman from the confirmation class who alternated days with me.

There is, I realized afresh tonight, a lot of death in the stories we tell at the Vigil: nearly every living being extinguished in the catastrophe of the Flood, the corpses of the entire Egyptian army washed up on the shore in the Exodus story, and of course the overarching story we have focused on for the past week of a man executed by the state in a particularly brutal and repulsive manner.

The reality of the death and brutality that make up so much of human history are part of the reason these stories were originally told to the catechists awaiting baptism at this Vigil; to know the reality of liberation and freedom from the fear of death, you have to grasp the realities of bondage and dying. Then when the lights come on, we are reminded afresh that freedom and liberation and life are realities too.

The Vigil service as we do it at Memorial Episcopal Church, whether we do it in the evening, as we did this year, or at sunrise, as we will next year, remains an intimate service for four of five dozen people. It’s a long service and at an odd time, hard to get people to attend but deeply meaningful to the handful who show up.

I, however, long for a Great Vigil broader and bigger, something that initiates the newcomers and draws a crowd, that becomes the Easter service, that has all the chanting and choral music and organ and brass and incense and ceremony that we can assemble. And that afterward has a party with food and drink and music and dancing.**

Ah well, but what we did accomplish was good too.

When I got in the car to return home and turned on the radio, there was Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the Bach E major violin concerto. Much of Bach’s music sounds like mathematics to me: complex but orderly, intellectual and demanding close attention. But the E major violin concerto is as lyrical as anything he ever wrote. Johann Sebastian Bach, dead and meat for worms two hundred and sixty years ago, and yet his music is alive and full of joy and immortal.

 

*I feel sorry for people who feel compelled to read the Creation story as if it were a textbook on geology and biology, as I feel sorry for all people who miss the point.

**Scandalizing the Baptists, always a plus.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:04 PM | | Comments (8)
        

Comments

The very first Great Vigil I ever attended was one like you long for...the fire erupted (seemingly) of its own accord in the parking lot. Hundreds of us processed in silence except for the occasional call/response. The church was packed to capacity; some stood in the back for the 2.5 hours. The Christ Candle was plunged into a baptismal pool constructed for that very service. We sang and chanted, there was an orchestra, 15 baptisms, 25 confirmations. We danced and ate and toasted the Resurrection afterwards. It was amazing.

This year, as the service ended in our small Episcopal church in the Ozarks, we left the service to the sound of very loud thunder. As we were sharing champagne toasts, the rector announced that the tornado sirens had gone off and we all processed into the inner hallway of the church, champagne flutes in one hand, smart phones in the other.

Good times... :)

The very first Great Vigil I ever attended was one like you long for...the fire erupted (seemingly) of its own accord in the parking lot. Hundreds of us processed in silence except for the occasional call/response. The church was packed to capacity; some stood in the back for the 2.5 hours. The Christ Candle was plunged into a baptismal pool constructed for that very service. We sang and chanted, there was an orchestra, 15 baptisms, 25 confirmations. We danced and ate and toasted the Resurrection afterwards. It was amazing.

This year, as the service ended in our small Episcopal church in the Ozarks, we left the service to the sound of very loud thunder. As we were sharing champagne toasts, the rector announced that the tornado sirens had gone off and we all processed into the inner hallway of the church, champagne flutes in one hand, smart phones in the other.

Good times... :)

I am thoroughly unchurched, but I enjoy these posts all the same. There is a beauty to the ritual of it all.

I have nothing but good feelings for the Episcopalians, who are the only folks in New Orleans who let you walk in off the street during Mardi Gras and use the facilities.

Thank you, John, for your very passionate recounting of your Easter Vigil experience. I share your love for its powerful expression of The Story.

One question about your posting. I've never heard the word "alter" used to express "alternate." I also can't find it in my immediate resources. Is that an obscure usage, or have I just missed it?

Happy Easter.

Ack! It was a typo. Now fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

"I smoked up the joint" -- you did? Did you roll your own?

If you hear much of Bach as only mathematics, you are really missing the point. Or perchance you spent too much time with Jim Svejda. In any case, Illumina nos, Domine.

I have no interest in the Baptists, but really! Can't they be left alone as you wish to be left alone? It is, after all, Easter.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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