I will hold the Christ light for you,
In the nighttime of your fear,
I will reach my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.
Verse 3 from Sister Let Me be your Servant Common Praise, #500
The Easter Vigil takes place on Holy Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and begins with the kindling of the new fire and the lighting of the Christ candle also known as the Paschal candle. The candle is then processed into the church, accompanied by a single voice singing, “The light of Christ” and the people responding, “Thanks be to God!” Upon reaching the sanctuary, the Exsultet is sung, a piece of music that traces our remembrance of God’s story of salvation and how on this night we take time to hear the story from the very beginning of creation to this particular moment in time.
When speaking with my colleague, the Rev. Canon Craig Hiebert, about those things we would be missing most, I mentioned how I would particularly miss lighting the Christ candle with others. An Easter Vigil is generally celebrated by only a few parishes, and I love visiting and joining in with them. Last year, I lit our Christ candle at St. Mary’s Oak Bay (where the Bishop noted St. Michael’s Christ candle is pretty hard core, seeing as it’s housed in a repurposed Black and Decker box) and the year before at the Cathedral. It is a long and beautiful service, and when the story of Christ’s resurrection is proclaimed, everyone joyously rings bells they have brought with them to the service.
I said to Craig, “Even though we can’t take the light of Christ into our church building right now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow each stand outside our worship space as a symbol of how we are each holding the Christ light for one another?” Being technologically savvy, he said, “Not only can we make that happen, we can have a live stream and others can watch and join in.” So, our unlikely Pandemic Easter Vigil was born. We approached the Bishop and received permission to organize. Craig researched and conducted trial gatherings to make sure everything would work. And those who were able, each made their way on Holy Saturday to their particular parish church around 8 p.m.
Angela Goddard, our church photographer and now videographer, met me there and helped me with the set up. Angela suggested turning on the St. Michael window lights which made everything more beautiful.
As I stood there in my alb and stole in the cool night air, I thought, “Well, it’s pretty great to know St. Michael has your back!” Then, my colleagues started appearing like stars on my laptop screen and I was surprised how very much like Easter it felt to see their Christ candles, their churches, their smiles and waves. At 8:30 we went live and the Bishop opened us with prayer, and music director at St. John the Divine, Victoria, David Stratkauskas sang the Exsutlet, and the Bishop then closed with a prayer and a blessing. The whole event took about 45 minutes, so a short vigil (they can sometimes be several hours) but wow, how time stretched in many directions.
Holding the Christ light on behalf of the St. Michael’s parishioners was a great gift. I thought of them, each sheltering at home with the same mix of confusion and courage that we all hold. I thought of the cloud of witnesses who surround us (the cemetery gently wrapped around the church). The traffic on West Saanich Road was as noisy as ever, but somehow there was also a deep quietness as I held the light steady and prayed for the St. Michael’s community and parish, for the Diocese, for our island home and for the world. In the midst of the traffic and chilling air, a wild goose sang out a greeting, to which I responded, the Lord is risen, indeed, Alleluia!
Driving home, I reflected on Easter Vigils and the surprising, increasing joy I felt that Easter had come even in, especially in, a time of pandemic. My family was watching a movie and I had a hard time settling down as words and images danced through my mind. I went to my study and wrote this poem, an attempt to capture the wonder and witness of a different vigil.
This is the night
when we remember
The story of salvation,
and God’s balancing act
of light and darkness.
This is the night
we reignite the light
and hold it steady
so others can see it,
and we ourselves can
be warmed by the glow.
This is the night we remember
the radiancy from which we were created
The night when wild geese fly overhead
And join with the stars
to add their alleluias
to the heavenly chorus.
As my fingers typed the words, I found the tightness in my body, mind and spirit had eased and I fell asleep with an image of each of us, the body of Christ, scattered across the world, holding the Christ light for one another, as we always have, as we always will.