to Spring! Life from death. Crocuses press up through matted leaves. Daylight lengthens. Our spirits awaken to the smell of molting earth. Hands clear away debris revealing etiolated shoots soon to be velvety iris. Every year the procession of aconite to snowdrop to crocus moves too quickly. As we gaze upon mid-summer dahlias we wonder where they went. Did we ever see those early harbingers? Now is the time to notice, to stop and to see. Perhaps this will be the first year we don’t speak the perennial phrase, “What happened to Spring?”
My friend Sarah Arthur released a beautiful collection of readings for Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide entitled Between Midnight and Dawn. While walking my dog over these last five weeks, I’ve carried this collection along. Between Midnight and Dawn references the hours of Vigil we keep while waiting for the dawn of Easter. A poem by Jill Palaez Baumgaertner pours immense blessing upon our hunched shoulders as we keep vigil through our dark nights of decaying parents, sick and hurting children, broken friendships and doubt. “We do not want the cross the season thrusts upon us,” but like Spring it comes, disregarding our readiness.
Easter Vigil by Jill Palaez Baumgaertner
From the church’s side door we follow the candle held aloft in the uncertain spring evening this dead time between death and birth, treading the pavement to the opened narthex door, the procession silent as dusk. Our tapers flare briefly as they steal flame, then settle into small steady burns, each a puncture to the gathered darkness of the sanctuary.
The human story- the rebellions, the redemption-read in darkness, the light to some a present shimmer, to most a dim promise. And you, two brothers, sitting in the deepened shadows, not quite sure that this hushed service is really yours, knowing only that your time has almost come. When the congregation gathers at the font, you stand, shifting your weight, ready now for drowning, your palms moist. How can this birth be so like death, you wonder, its public nature almost humiliation?
What happens next is water and movement, then into the fulgent chancel fragrant with brings narcissus, lily, bread and wine, the celebration of rising. I recall this now as we awaken each morning to the stunned wonder of how you could be one moment and not the next, the child whose forehead once glistened with sprinkled water, now sunk in the baptism of death.
You know what we do not-the lifting up out of it, the first gasps of birth, but we linger behind you, words smothered, motion stopped, lips dry with what we hardly dare believe.
What comes after this vacancy, after the stripped altar and God’s Friday silence? We do not want the cross the season thrusts upon us. But once again it is our turn. Our hands cupped, the host pressed into it, the quickening of the wine, the animating of all from nothing, nuclei, protoplasm-jellylike, colloidal-the chromosomes, genes, DNA, infused with movement, tempo, the beating of the heart, the pinking of the skin, the soft breathing of the sleeper breaking into wakefulness, eyes opening to effortless light.
(apologies to Jill for reformatting this poem)