Tonight is our Order’s annual Great Vigil leading to the sunrise service of Easter. I must say that vigils rock my little world. Some people, ok most people cringe when they hear about having to stay up all night in meditation and prayer, but I get seriously pumped just thinking about it.Why? Well, for one thing, every single vigil I’ve ever had has always been deeply moving for me; a profound experience. For those that have never actually kept a full vigil, it is difficult to describe the experience. There is a transformation that takes place over the course of the night, and when the morning finally comes it’s as though my soul sighs in great release.
The Great Vigil consists of readings and psalms interspersed with periods of silence. Throughout the night, we stand watch over the tiny flickering flame of the new Paschal light. For the entirety of the night, that small candle will represent for us the presence of God as we meditate on the empty feeling that remained following Christ’s crucifixion and before the resurrection. We sit through the darkest hours of the night before dawn. We struggle to ward off sleep as we focus on the presence of God deep within us, as we shelter our own flickering flames of God’s Love within us.
Each year for my vigil I carry with me into the darkened church the emotional and spiritual baggage that I have managed to collect over Lent. I bear my own cross, as it were. I go in knowing that it will be a long night and that God and I are going to have a very vary long talk. I feel so vulnerable when I sit in my pew through the night, staring at the stripped altar, knowing that before the Divine I am similarly stripped bare.It is in the darkness of the church that I delve inwardly to my own darkness. The pain of disappointment, the pain of confusion, the pain of rejection and loss, the pain of yearning…all of this I allow myself to feel while constantly recognizing that God is right there feeling and enduring it with me. Between the hours of 3 and 4 are when I feel the most alone. That truly is the darkest hour, when the stars have faded but the horizon has yet to lighten. The night animals have quieted and the morning birds have not yet started to sing. The night seems to hold its breath before the coming dawn as though still not entirely sure that dawn will come.
But the hour finally passes and I sit, my soul gasping from the struggle and fear. God is with me, so close I can touch Her, so close I need only whisper for Her to hear me. Again, it is so difficult to describe this to someone who has never experienced it. But then comes the dawn, the celebration of Easter begins! The light rises in the sky and the flickering of our candle is lost in the greater luminescence. The sun rises as we celebrate the rising of the Christ. The Sun breaks the fearful power of the dark night as the Christ breaks the terrible darkness of death.
And in all the celebration of the Easter Service, I sit trembling at the touch of a God who holds me closely. I want nothing more than to rest against that great shoulder and rest, wrapped so lovingly in God’s arms. I can hear God whispering as I watch the service half dazed, God’s hand cradling my face against Her chest, “It was tough, I know, but shhhh. I told you we’d make it through.”