My first Easter Vigil was 3 years ago. I was not raised in a liturgical church so I had never experienced anything like it before. The only thing I knew about Easter was bunnies and egg hunts with lots of candy.
Three years ago John and I were new to St Mark’s. Father Christopher tried to describe the Holy Vigil of Easter to us but I wasn’t prepared for the power of what I experienced. I now understand that the Easter vigil must follow the experience of Lent and the first days of Holy Week. During Lent the church services become somber and the music turns to a minor key. The cross itself is shrouded. During Lent I began to miss the celebratory music and the more upbeat joy of the church community. Then Holy Week began which I found to be a dramatic and powerful experience. This was most especially true on Good Friday when the cross no longer proceeded into the congregation. Somehow that touched me deeply and I profoundly longed for the return of the cross.
During the Holy Vigil everything was returned to newness again. We started outside by the fire and slowly proceeded into the darkened church. Each member was given a candle and each candle provided a point of light until we were enveloped in a lovely candlelit space. John and I were baptized that year during the candlelight portion of the service. I will never forget its beauty and the warm welcome I felt into the Christian family. The icing on the cake was the lighting of the entire church and the return of the triumphant music of celebration. I have looked forward to the experience of Holy Week ever since.
As we all begin this forty- day journey through Lent, a time of quiet and reflection, my mind leaps ahead. Now, why is it when you try to focus on one thing, when you quiet your body, your mind speeds up? This is something with which all contemplatives struggle. How much worse must it be for children? Oh, you wonder, where did your mind leap?
In this instance, my mind leapt to Holy Week which begins with that tumultuous, joyous expectation that Jesus had a plan to save his people. He is welcomed with crowds waving palms, riding a colt over the robes laid on the paving stones of Jerusalem, people singing and shouting in excitement, an early day version of the hero’s welcome to the returning soldiers from the World Wars.
On Palm Sunday, we reenact this event outside the church doors with our own banners, palms, songs and joy. As the crowd gathers, there is much murmuring, greetings and hugs being exchanged, little ones running in and out between elders’ feet, walkers being pushed over the bumps as folks jockey to get a better view of the proceedings. Bells ring out and the service begins outside where God’s creation is arrayed in riotous spring glory. Sometimes, it is very chilly and everyone is bundled, sometimes it is hot on the asphalt pavement and we all wish for a return to parasols. And even though we know that Good Friday is coming, today is all about triumph. A recognition that Jesus is our king and that we are part of the plan, part of the kingdom, movers and shakers of our world. I imagine the disciples and followers of Jesus felt much like this. They, of course, did not yet know the whole story, but if we are at all thoughtful, then neither do we. What is coming next? What challenges will we face as respond to the call of our particular ministries. Will the excitement and jubilation of this Palm Sunday sustain us through the horror of Good Friday and into the relief and joy of the resurrection?
On the Tuesday evening of Holy Week, St. Mark's observes the service of Tenebrae. In the reflection below, St. Mark's member Jeff Devereux shares his experience of this beautiful service.
My first service in the Episcopal Church was Tenebrae in 2018. I should note that up to this point, I had been invited to attend St. Mark’s multiple times by close friends, but I always refused due to my experience with the Church growing up. I felt betrayed by the Church and by God for my coming out and the losses I had experienced as a young man, convincing myself that God did not want me and, quite frankly, I did not want him either.
Which makes Tenebrae as my first service upon my return to the Church very fitting. Tenebrae is a service which acknowledges the betrayal of Jesus in the garden, a time of shadow in our Holy Week foreshadowing the coming crucifixion and death of Jesus. It is not a happy service, but it is reverent and solemn, acknowledging that the Christian experience sometimes requires us, as Christ did, to walk through shadow and darkness. My arrival and attendance at Tenebrae, therefore, was an acknowledgement of the betrayal and shadow I had gone through and still existed within when I sat in the pews.
This is all to say, there is an odd peace in knowing that your struggle with shadow is something to be acknowledged and not to be ignored because without it, we can never find true peace or understand ourselves in the way Christ understands us. In the Church with which I was raised, darkness and shadow was something experienced as a result of your own sinfulness. Tenebrae is a reminder that this is not the case, but rather, that part of Christianity is walking through shadow in order to find Christ, or rather, the self Christ has created and called us to be." - Jeff Devereaux