Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil, 2022
Burning bonfire at 7PM, lighting handheld candles failing in the wind, relit during a processional chant indoors, near darkness. A liturgy, like biblical flashbacks, and I wondered “why so much detail? Stories that characterize a nameless God?”
And I thought of a dark mound, a giant mountain in my mind, one slowly rolling beyond the horizon, a mountain that seems to keep falling over the edge of sight, streaming down constantly beyond reach. And we all—the church, or more expansively, a continuous tradition of religious people, those dead and living; more expansively: all of humanity—we all place names and characterizations of this mound onto this mound beyond our reach, folding into oblivion. That is our task, as the names break off of it. But what else could we do?
And so we read of the God who created the entire world in seven days. And the God who clogged the wheels of the Egyptian chariots, drowning them for Israeli triumph. God has taken sides by now. And we read of a God who strung bones with sinews, bringing life from four winds.
And a sacrament to renew baptismal vows as a church. I stayed silent, although I think I believe everything the church recited. They do this every year.
The darkness of the church switched to light; the black fabric draped over the walls was torn down to reveal intricate flower work behind the altar. And the altar itself, uncovered, with gold fabric on top of it. The choir chanted and shook bells, as the atmosphere changed from moody to celebratory. Even the organ played a little fanfare. The woman next to me, alluding to another person in a service a couple of years ago, congratulated me for not lighting my hair on fire .
The liturgy ran! And we passed through it, celebrating the first Eucharist of the resurrection season, praying the Lord’s prayer. “We are bold to say…” it began. I wished that I had boldness during the baptismal vows. And really, when God, the mountain shrugging off names and characterizations—that infinite, void-ish God, cannot be spoken of, what else can you do but prepare for prayer boldly? Don’t forgiveness and hope and love and belief and all those things that shrink cynicism—don’t all these things require that boldness? The people around me held hands, in spite of that God who kills the Egyptians, in spite of that nameless God that precedes our knowledge, boldly saying “our father…”
Communion: someone switched the drink to white wine. I didn’t know Jesus bled yellow.
The service continued, quickly. More singing. A blessing. Perform the cross gesture, fast (I still don’t know which way to do this, so I don’t). Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! A Bach piece and we’re out.
You could spend your time reading the criticisms of the religious. The opium of the people; the masochistic desires that Camus talks about; the Freudian sublimation or repression; the fabricated social-construction of God; the cheap Sam Harris critiques of all religions (he’d like Jainism, though!); the power dynamics and the money; the “cultlike” personalities that want to control a crowd; the possibility for manipulation in highly-emotionally-charged services; the hegemonic Christo-centric West, with its insufficient theodicies that justify violence; or an implicit onto-theology that, apparently, stops us from seeing the ‘other;’ the legacy of a religion that could, and did, perform the crusades; a Christian history of colonization (oh but it’s God’s nation that triumphs, apparently); religious trauma; religious treatment of LGBTQ+ people; religious treatment of women; religious violence; or, ultimately, a real question: why spend your time at church on any given day, when you could be doing something to save the world? Why be religious when you could get along without it and probably actually do some good? I asked my priest this sort of stuff, on a walk. We talked.
But tonight, we all extended our arms, holding each other’s hands. “And now…we are bold to say: Our Father…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And later, “send us now into the world in peace, grant us the strength and courage to love. Amen.”