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.