Monday, April 25, 2011

This is the night

I wish I had time to write, to process the events of the past week--from the six-hour procession around the city with the Bishop on Palm Sunday, to the night tainted by a murder on my street between leaving Christ weeping in the garden on Thursday night and observing his death Friday at noon, to faith in the resurrected Christ on Sunday that begins the new creation even on the very street on which I saw a dead man lie three nights earlier. You may get a lot of Easter posts as I process it all over the summer (if survive [academically] the next two weeks).

In the mean time, as we are still in some ways living in the night that the resurrected Christ has nevertheless entered, as the empty tomb still confuses us his friends who cannot always see him in a way we would expect, I thought I'd copy the words from the Easter vigil service on Saturday night, the night we celebrated the resurrection before even Mary Magdalen had discovered the empty tomb. These words take more faith than I can muster sometimes—try saying O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! while a warm-but-dead body lies on your friends' yard, for example—but the Church says them nonetheless, and stands together in the faith that his Resurrection gives us.

Rejoice, my friends; rejoice, my neighborhood: Christ is risen, even as the night lingers.

* * *
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

By this we know love

Late one night last month, a few days after the earthquake in Japan, my phone rang. It was my dear friend Benedict, the formerly homeless man I met in college. My heart leapt a bit, worried that a late-night phone call might forebode an emergency, and Lord-knows he’s had more than his share of those.

“Hello there!” I answered with masked cheerfulness, bracing myself for the worse.

“Hi,” his voice on the other end was serious, his gravity unburdened with pleasantries. “Em...” he struggled, and couldn’t continue.

“What is it, Benedict?” I asked, my voice sinking to match his somber tone.

“I was just watching the news tonight,” he explained, “and I saw what’s happening, and I remembered...” he struggled again... “what country was it where your family moved?”

A rush of relief flooded me. “Oh, Benedict,” I assured him, “it wasn’t Japan. They’re far inland in Asia, nowhere near Japan. Don’t worry, they’re quite safe.”

His voice on the other end let out an immediate gust of relief. “Ahhhhhhhhh! Okay, that’s what I needed to hear. I just couldn’t remember, and I was so afraid. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep tonight until I knew they were safe.”

And after we chatted for a few minutes about the whereabouts of my Asia-residing siblings and nephews, family members whom he has met only a handful of times in the past seven years of our friendship, I hung up the phone feeling quite humbled. In his love for me, Benedict has adopted the trials of my family as his own, despite his host of ever-gnawing trials.

Indeed, John tells us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, as we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” And though the opportunity to die a hero’s death does not present itself to many of us, I suppose that just as Christ showed us love by entering into our sufferings, we also ought to enter into the sufferings of others. Benedict at least has been willing to enter into the potential sufferings of my family as if they were his own.

That, coming from a man who knows what it is to suffer, was one of the most startling expressions of love I have heard in a while.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Earth felt the wound

(Apologies for the long blogger silence as I prepared for my recent conference in Montreal and entered the long push at the end semester. Posts will likely remain scarce as I work on final research and prepare for a trip to Asia.)

On Friday I had the moving experience of reading through all of Paradise Lost aloud in one marathon sitting with a group of students and faculty at the university. All morning and afternoon we moved through some of the most stunningly beautiful lines of English poetry, and I found myself shocked by the wonder of creation in Book VII as God separated the waters from the land:
over all the face of Earth
Main Ocean flow'd, not idle, but with warme
Prolific humour soft'ning all her Globe,
Fermented the great Mother to conceave,
Satiate with genial moisture...
But as the evening approached and we moved into Book IX, my professor retrieved his basket of apples, passing them out to all the women as Eve reached out “her rash hand in evil hour” and directing us to eat when
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.
The men of course were not off the hook, and they were directed to follow as Adam “scrupl’d not to eat” and
Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan.
It was a moving experience, the first time my heart has ever been quite so grieved to consider the Fall in which I myself am complicit.

I too have taken. I too did eat.

The season of Lent reminds us of our part in this great epic of human history: not the part of the hero, not even only of the victim. Indeed, we who have committed to fast during this season and have found our vigilance waning over the weeks may have questioned such apparently arbitrary strictures to be “suspicious, reasonless,” and may have found our appetites to get the better of our piety. We may have also slighted
that sole command,
So easily obeyd amid the choice
Of all tastes else to please thir appetite,
Though wandring.
Lenten fasting may indeed be an opportunity for penance, but this year I have also found it to be a canvas on which I have painted my own sin. I am the woman who has taken from the tree. I am the friend sleeping in the garden. I am the disciple who has denied my tortured master.

I too need a savior.