by Stephen Crippen
One of my Lenten disciplines this year has been singing the Exsultet most days throughout the season. I take my pitch (e-flat), breathe, and start singing it, usually in the kitchen where the granite countertops create a fairly live acoustical space.
The Exsultet technically isn’t about Lent, so maybe it’s odd that this is one of the things I’m doing to keep the season. But then, it all hangs together: the wilderness of Lent, and the Easter proclamation of deliverance from the wilderness, from bondage, from death. The Exsultet is sung during the Service of Light at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. After we’ve entered the church and lit our tapers from the new paschal candle, which in turn was lit from a new fire, we hear in the Exsultet an exhortation to rejoice.
And we’re not alone. The song begins, “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels…” Then, “Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth…” Then, “Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church…” And finally, us, you and me: “All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame…” All creation, all the cosmos, is encouraged to rejoice.
Gary James rehearsed the Exsultet with me yesterday. I say this with deep respect for Gary, but rehearsing with him can be a character-building experience. He knows that he needs to be honest about what he’s hearing, that if I’m going to improve, he can’t spare my feelings. This year he said, “You know, it sounds pretty good, but I have to say you’re not really sounding like you’re getting anyone to rejoice about anything. Remember, they are hearing this at five-o-clock in the morning! You need to exhort them to rejoice.”
Point well taken. And…maybe that’s my general problem, not just my problem as an occasional cantor. How often do I exhort people to rejoice? My mother was always better at this than me. When she planned her funeral, she picked Philippians 4:4-7 as her second reading (“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice!”). She had a lifetime of health problems and suffered an untimely death, but when she exhorted people to rejoice, it worked. You could tell she meant it.
So back to Lent, that season of (non?) rejoicing. Singing the Exsultet over the last six weeks has helped me understand better that God is inviting us into a life of rejoicing, a life in which we say Yes to God’s vision of justice and mercy and peace for all people—and for all the round earth herself—and rejoice as we see that vision realized. Indeed, God’s salvific work has already begun, and has already been glorious. Rejoice now, rejoice and sing now, rejoice and be glad now! I am exhorting you!
Stephen is a therapist and postulant to the Diaconate. You can find his personal blog here.