Keeping the Vigil

They didn’t teach me audio engineering or cinematography when I got my Masters in Theology. Maybe they should have, I thought, as lightning flashed through stain glass windows, the transcendent Exsultet echoing through the empty Cathedral. I was desperately attempting to keep a livestream going through a ramshackle conjunction of cameras, cords, blackboxes and an overheating laptop whose fan was spinning as fast as my heart was beating.

I was one of seven people who were keeping the Easter Vigil. The pandemic had emptied the pews and filled the hospitals, but the Easter Candle was burning brightly, reminding us of the joy of years past and the hope of an unknown future.

For a little over two hours I sweated it out. The laptop screen froze about a quarter of the way through the Mass. I had to switch to my phone to check and make sure we hadn’t dropped the connection. When Mass ended, the exultation I felt had nothing to do with Easter or the end of the Lenten fast, but the simple relief of not messing something up, something that felt important to a lot of people.

After cleaning up the equipment and getting it ready for the morning’s Mass, I walked outside into the cool wet air. The storm had exhausted itself, and the sky was clearing, the yellow moon barely visible through the breaking, foggy clouds. The cathedral dome was shining brightly, as were the skyscrapers. But the streets and roads were empty all the way home.

Everyone was asleep, so I kissed the sleeping babies, made a manhattan, and settled into my favorite chair. I sipped the bittersweet whiskey and reflected on the strangeness of the evening.

Keeping the vigil.

At times it felt hollow, utterly alien to my usual experiences of Mass, particularly the Easter Vigil, the liturgy of liturgies. But for brief moments, something greater shined through. The beauty of faith, of the persevering human heart, the utter gratuity of grace, of being, of believing, particularly when things are difficult, dark, and scary.

Keeping the vigil. It has echoed in my heart throughout the Easter Season. I think of the women arriving at the tomb. How they prepared the spices in the quiet and dark hours that remain utterly unknown to history. How many bodies had they prepared in a similar way? How many vigils had they kept? How many young women and men had they buried? How many victims of violence had they anointed?

Keeping the vigil.

Through those long empty stretches, through highways and deserts and even despair. When hope and faith and love become acts of will, drained of consolation, and all you have left are hard choices that demand immediate action.

Keeping the vigil.

Enduring a long illness, chronic pain, or the hopelessness that comes from systematic oppression. Holding your child at 2:00 a.m. or the hand of your beloved in a hospital bed. Or listening to the empty silence of life during those long dark night when no light shines to guide you.

Keeping the vigil.

This morning the news is full of injustice, plague, and protest. The social fabric is ripped and torn and I fear the center will not hold.

Who will light a candle for human dignity, for the common good, for justice for the poor and marginalized? Who will create signs of hope and resurrection for the young and the old?

Who will, in this dark night of our collective soul, light the candle and keep the vigil, awaiting the dawn?

If not you, who?

Easter Candle, in an Empty Cathedral. Vigil 2020

3 thoughts on “Keeping the Vigil

  1. Enjoyed reading this and reflecting on my time at the “Great Vigil.” I was part of the small team present for it and I was sweating bullets helping with the livestream, in an alb no less. Not as fancy as yours but dealing with a plug in microphone – and all the things of white noise and feedback that only happens when people are in the space – for the liturgy, I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the liturgy. Didn’t help that the stressed out pastor sent one of those emails after he watched the livestream. Oh well. In these times, we jokingly say, keep the bar very low so anything we do that seems better is a celebration of grace.

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    1. Thank you for reading. It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one sweating at the vigil! And yes, we’ve had a lot of stress as we transition to and from livestreaming, a good indication of how liturgy, society and technology interact.

      Like

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