Saturday, April 3, 2010

Vigil of Easter 2010

Just got in a while ago from keeping vigil with my congregation.

Let me say, having first experienced Easter vigil years ago (1990-ish), as an adult, it has become The Service for me out of all the year. As we were getting ready for it before hand, I began to feel giddy, sort of like how I remember getting excited about Christmas circa 1970. The anticipation drives me a little bonkers. I love the fire outside, the candles, the long chant telling us over and over "This is the night!" I love all the readings, reminding us of God's mighty acts throughout scripture, all in a dark church. And when the lights come up . . .

Stop. Let me back up. For those not familiar with Vigil, let me say that it is not a self-contained service. It is, in fact, a continuation of the services from the two previous days, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Maundy Thursday, the altar and pulpit and any other so draped pieces of furniture are stripped of their paraments, as we chant the 22nd Psalm. When I first experienced this ritual, I found it very moving. We've heard the story of the last supper, of the betrayal, of the new commandment, "love one another." We strip the the nave bare, as Jesus was stripped of his humanity by an inhumane system. It seems ridiculous to connect the two outside of the context, but the stripping of the altar never fails to move me. It seems unbearably sad to remove all sign of festival, leave the nave unadorned.

And it stays that way for Good Friday, as we hear again the way Love is treated in this world. Love is beaten, condemned, hung out to die. We remember our own part in killing Love. We leave the stripped nave in darkness.

But after long chants and readings, after many prayers, the lights come up in the nave during the Vigil and the tomb is declared empty. The bare altar is dressed again, before our eyes, in the golden paraments of Easter. Alleluias are sung. Lilies are set about the nave. Love does not remain dead. Love always rises.

So, for me, the full cycle, the stripping of the alter to the dressing of the altar, is cathartic for me. Vigil ended about two hours ago, and I'm still giddy.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Now. I've had a hard spring, my whole congregation has. This giddiness will fade and the reality of grave illness and death will still be facing us. That doesn't mean tonight's celebration was for nothing. It means that in the middle of grave illness and death, we are always reminded that Love always rises. All of this is being redeemed, somehow. We may not see it with our eyes. Indeed, my pastor said tonight that God works in darkness much of the time, from the creation of the world, which started in darkness, to the Exodus from Egypt, following a pillar of fire by night, to the resurrection of Jesus, which happened while everyone slept. We don't see God working. It's often too dark to see God working.

But then the lights come up---Let there be light!---and there are lilies and golden paraments and a choir singing.

I doubt many things, but I trust in resurrection.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Humility of Dirty Feet

We, as a culture, don't practice foot washing, not as first century Palestinians did. We don't travel by foot, wearing sandals. We do not enter another's home with dusty feet. We do not greet our dusty-footed guests with a water basin and towel.

So this practice comes down to us only as a ritual, disconnected to its cultural moorings. Is a ritual so disconnected still meaningful? I've been a part of discussions that have wondered what a 21st Century sign of welcome might be, that we might substitute for a Maundy Thursday ritual. We always come up empty. I don't know if that means we no longer practice hospitality or if our hospitality rituals are simply not so obvious. They're certainly not so intimate.

People have issues with feet. Feet are disgusting. Or a fetish. Or ticklish. I suppose for Jesus and his contemporaries, feet weren't hidden so much, and probably didn't stink so much. They simply got dirty. They were just a part of the body that was seen all the time. They were probably more calloused than ours. And I imagine there were some disgusting, fetishized, and ticklish feet in Jesus' time, too.

But still, it was good manners to greet a traveler with water basin and towel.

Some churches practice foot washing this day. Most do so with some hesitancy, some sensitivity to others' feelings about feet. There is an enormous opt out clause, in neon letters.

I'm going to go out on a limb. In our American society, the ritual of washing feet isn't about having the humility to serve another by washing his/her feet, although that's still there. I propose the model for us isn't Jesus in the gospel story. It's Peter.

Whether Peter was ashamed or too proud, I suppose we can open that up to discussion. Shame, pride, I believe them to be two sides of the same coin. Either way, Peter doesn't want to let Jesus wash his feet. Peter isn't good enough to have his feet washed by his teacher. While we would do well to pay attention to Jesus's humility in bending to wash his student's feet, we should more, nowadays, pay attention to Peter's ability to set aside his pride (or shame) and let Jesus serve him, touch his feet, have that physical intimacy once practiced between a guest and the host.

Is this ritual, separated from its cultural practice, still meaningful?

Speaking only for myself, I'll answer sideways: I seldom have wine or bread with a meal anymore, but the most meaningful meal of my week consists of only wine and bread.