Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter and Our People

I had all sorts of thoughts of getting this post done before I got into bed on Easter evening. It turned out that I needed more recovery time than that.

Usually during this week I end up reflecting on something in the liturgies of Holy Week that particularly caught me. This year it has to do with our history, and with our heroes, and with everyone who walks this Christian path with us.

Here at Holy Cross we do the Great Vigil of Easter in our Refectory, which for those of you who have never been here, is an octagonal building with large windows on all sides which look out over the Hudson Valley. It's the perfect location. We begin in the dark, on the adjoining porch, lighting the New Fire of Easter and then settle down in the Refectory for an hour (more or less) of hearing the stories of our history from the Hebrew Scriptures - the Creation, the Flood, the Parting of the Sea and others. As we read it grows slowly lighter outside and the world comes back to life all around us, and we finish the last of those readings just as the sun rises over the Hudson River. This year there were clouds at the skyline, but they were thin enough that the sun shone through weakly, and we at least had a glimpse of it as it rose.

Then we form up in a procession and we go all the way to the other end of our buildings - a distance of a tenth of a mile (we have a lot of buildings!)and as we go we sing the Litany of the Saints, which carries us from the Scriptural histories into the history of the Christian people. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us" we sing. "Holy Joseph Guardian of God's Son, pray for us". "All you holy angels and blessed spirits, all you holy patriarchs and prophets, pray for us". And then the Apostles: "Holy Peter, holy Paul, holy James, holy John, pray for us". Then we move to our fathers and mothers in the monastic life: "Holy Benedict, pray for us. Holy James Huntington (the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross), pray for us". "Holy Anthony (from the deserts of north Africa), Holy Columba (Ireland and the island of Iona),holy Aidan (Lindesfarne, off the eastern coast of England), holy Dunstan, holy Romuald, holy Hildegard, Holy Frances, holy Clare" and many, many others.... "pray for us". "Holy Alphonsus Liguori, holy Catherine McCauley, holy Frances Xavier Cabrini (founders of Roman Catholic orders with whom we have or have had close relationships) pray for us." And then our fathers and mothers of the American Church - Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day - and especially of the Episcopal Church - Absalom Jones, Paul Jones, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, "pray for us." "All you holy champions of the oppressed, pray for us." "All you holy servants and handmaids of God, pray for us."

And I found, as we walked in those darkened corridors and sang of our family, that there were a lot more walking and singing with us than the few score of people who were here for the liturgy. The walls of time and of history became almost transparent and there we were, processing towards the blessing of the water that commemorates our baptism, and then to the altar in our Church for the encounter with the risen Christ that comes in Communion, going along with all of those who have gone before us - remembered and unremembered, heroic and ordinary - all of us going to God, caught up in prayer for each other.

All of you who have ever caught a glimpse of the Divine, pray for us. All who pilgrimage through life without knowing exactly what you seek, pray for us. All who have had a glimpse of God that has transfigured your life forever, pray for us.

All who have touched my life with love, pray for us.

And as we arrived in our Church, and shouted "Christ is Risen!" and sang our hymns and rang all our bells, we did it with all of them - all who went before, all who go with us now, even those who are yet to come, caught up in a great web of prayer that binds us all to each other.

Such is the reality that our liturgy opens to us. It's always there. But we only see it every now and then. But once you have seen it, you don't forget.

Christ is Risen!

3 comments:

MEH said...

Ah, Bede, you have found the secret of the historian. We have never been alone on this journey. There is this long line of people and spirits who have been here and are here and will be here. We march along hearing the echo of their path and it takes us with them and beyond them. It is the great secret of the Christian life - we are never alone.

Chris said...

Once you see the is, was, and yet to be, you don't forget. Christ is risen, indeed!

JudyOlson said...

I have always had a great love for the Litany of the Saints. Using "holy" in place of "saint" really brings it into the living now, instead of conjuring up ancient skeletons. Adding the holy ones of the 19th and 20th century (and we 21st century pilgrims as well) just brought tears to my eyes. I hope someday I can participate in this marvelous liturgy. Thank you for your luminous description.