Holy Week – Easter Eve

I had not quite figured out how I was going to get to church on Easter Day.

We had to be out of our hotel by noon and we were due to pick up our car at the Bilbao airport at the same time.

Finding any kind of a schedule for Easter at any church had been unsuccessful.

Tranquila Senora. It will work out. It always does.

As Mick Jagger says, ” You don’t always get what you want but you’ll find, you usually get what you need.

B and I had an early dinner Saturday and were in for the night when I heard drums and brass and the familiar sounds of a Holy Week Procession. But our neighborhood was not on any procession schedule.

The night was young and truth to tell, I really needed a piece of chocolate. I knew the store down the block was open late. Late. It was eight o clock.

Snap decision. Clothes on. Head out to find the procession. Worst case. Get chocolate and go back to bed.

I wandered around the side streets and finally gave up and headed back to the hotel.

I passed the church in our neighborhood and the gates which had been locked all week, were open. So I went in.

I did not know the name of the church but I recognized the banners from the Good Friday Procession.

I was in the parish church of Saint Vincent and the Easter Vigil had just begun.

A man, who I assumed was an usher, stopped me from going too far down the center aisle. I took a seat near the back just in time for a group of children to begin working their way through the congregation to light the vigil candles.

I asked the “usher” where I could find the candles. No candles, he motioned. Ok, no candle.

As the children worked their way to the back of the church I recognized them as children who had been in the Procession the night before.

I notice my usher friend has found more candles for the people behind me.

Now here is an interesting question.

If you are a stranger and alone, how exactly does this make you feel?

Are candles only for the parishioners? Do you have to buy them? What is the drill?

Are you being overly sensitive? Does it really matter? Is this how the church really is? Why do you care so much about a candle?

I have no answers but I can tell you this. I have rarely felt as alone as I felt at that moment.

My usher pal is now sitting opposite me and he knows the service inside and out. He also has a beautiful voice and sings with great enthusiasm. He is also wearing black shoes. He can’t fool me; he is a priest!

The traditional Easter Eve liturgy proceeds with members of the Fraternity reading the lessons. I can’t make out all of them but they do include the Exaltation, the Dry Bones and the Red Sea readings.

We move onto the sermon. The priest begins with these words. “Jesus is alive!”

In his sermon of about six minutes, he repeats this phrase over and over. No doubt what his message is. As we say in the family. ” He got Jesus out of the tomb!”

No apologies, no politics, no slipping and sliding. Take it or leave it, but this is what Easter is about. Believe it or don’t believe it, but I believe it and you should too .

He ends his sermon with these words “Jesus is alive; Christ is risen!”

Suddenly, I am not alone any more and I don’t need a candle to be a part of this family.

Before the Peace, the children are back to relight the candles.

Silently the usher/priest reaches across the aisle and puts a candle in my hand. I am not a stranger anymore and I am undone.

On to the peace.

Political correctness has not made it to this parish. At the peace, the priest gives every single person in the church (and there are lots) a kiss on both checks and often a hug. This shepherd knows his sheep and they know him.

I guess I look like one of his sheep as I get the same two kisses and a hug.

My usher/priest crosses the aisle and embraces me with a kiss on each check. We both cry.

The peace takes a long time but the music by the choir is wonderful.

I am stunned to discover at communion there are only about eight choir members. I think they have some surround sound amplification as I would have sworn there were 30 or 40 people singing. Maybe the angelic choirs were helping out!

Before the priest begins the consecration he invites all of the children to join him around the altar. About 35 children surround him and are completely drawn into the liturgy. The future of the church celebrates the Resurrection together.

When I go up to communion, it all makes sense.

The various parish guilds from the Good Friday procession are all seated together in the front section of the church.

Their drums and brass instruments and banners line both sides of the church. They were the call to worship I heard from my hotel room.

And so the Easter Vigil ends. I feel like I have known these people all my life. Lots of hugs , more kisses, a final embrace from my usher/priest/friend.

As I walk out the door I see a statue from one of the Good Friday floats.

Yesterday the robe was purple; tonight it is sparkling white and gold.

The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now.

I go off into the night, back up the hill to my hotel.

The grocery store is still open but I don’t go in.

Mick was right. Tonight I got what I needed and it wasn’t a chocolate bunny.

The Lord is Risen indeed.

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