Monday, April 5, 2010

Turning on the lights

by Stephen Crippen

Okay, so this is frustrating. For the second year in a row, at the Great Easter Vigil (which truly is great at St. Paul's!), when the lights came on and the bells rang and the organ sounded and everyone shouted "Alleluia", I felt ...


What's the matter with me? Last year, my household had just bid a tearful farewell to our beloved dog Hoshi (his first feast day is tomorrow). Because of that fresh loss, I thought my flat emotional response to the dawning of Easter made sense. But why this year?

Maybe it's because I'm pretty tired. I'm doing a chaplaincy internship, a social-agency internship, diocesan exams, grad school, and my private practice. That's a pretty full load. But somehow I don't think that's it.

Maybe it's the fact that for the last three years, I've been the one who actually turned on the lights at the big moment when Melissa sings "Alleluia, Christ is risen" and the congregation sings "The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia." When that mountaintop liturgical moment occurs, I'm in a back hallway, timing the flick of each light switch to be sure the lights come on just right. I'm like the man behind the curtain in "The Wizard of Oz": I know what the operation looks like from the perspective of the control room.

But I want to dig a little deeper on this. Here's what I suspect might really be going on: Easter is no longer, for me, the sudden outburst of joy that it was for so many years. Easter has become a developmental process, a gradual unfolding of grace and joy in my life. One reason for this might be that in my chaplaincy work, I've seen more death by far than I ever have before. And I'm seeing the many intense and diverse forms death can take, from a deadly stroke to a car accident to a gunshot wound. In Easter I hear that death (and the deathward drift of so much of our human experience) does not have the last word: "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him...So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:9, 10b). Death in all its forms does not have the last word.

But it is one of the words.

Somehow, on Easter Day, in my own small way, I hold on my heart all who have died, and particularly all who have suffered despair and anguish, since last Easter Day. Our new paschal candle bears the letters MMX--2010. Another year of grace, certainly. But also another year of vulnerability, risk, loss, and crisis. I don't do this to be maudlin: I sing alleluia--I really do!--but I also have empathy for the first witnesses of the resurrection, the frightened and confused women and men who didn't have it all figured out right away. It took them a long time to make sense of the fact that God, in Christ, invites us into a life-filled future, even though in our present time we so often feel the sting of death.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. You are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. --Psalm 86:4, 10

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