Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Song Amid Snow-covered Graves: Easter 2013 Part 2

Holy Saturday was possibly the most fruitful day of the Easter Triduum for me this year. Usually this day always ended up being more full of baking and egg-dyeing and getting ready for Easter Vigil than actually meditating on the significance of the day itself. This year, since Easter Vigil was at 5 a.m. on Sunday, I decided to go to what was called a “Trauermetten” on Saturday morning—basically really long Morning Prayer with monks. (For those of you familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours, Nocturns and Lauds put together.) Anyway, after every Psalm, the altar server extinguished a candle in a big candelabrum in front of the altar, until there were none left. Overall a pretty somber service—it was, after all, a service of mourning.

Afterwards, in keeping the mournful spirit, I went to the cemetery. What better place to spend the day when Christ lay in the tomb? I felt very much in solidarity with Mary and the other women who would have been mourning Jesus’ death after his burial. But I realized that I couldn’t quite replicate the sorrow and despair that must have been felt by those women, because I knew about Easter. Easter changed Holy Saturday forever, from a day of utter hopelessness to a day of quiet, hidden hope. Similarly, the Resurrection changed death forever. I went around to all the graves of my relatives and told them to take courage, because Christ who rose on the third day would also raise them on the last day. (It sounds better in German: Habt Mut! Denn Christus, der am dritten Tage auferstanden ist, wird auch euch am letzten Tage auferstehen lassen!)  Anyway, nature was cooperating beautifully with my meditations. The sky was gray and a very silent snow was falling, covering all the graves like a stifling white blanket. But in the trees, the birds were singing like crazy, all ready for spring. This juxtaposition of silence and sound—of visible death and life that I couldn’t see, only hear—reflected very well the idea of hope hidden under the outward signs of death and desolation.


As I said above, Easter Vigil was at five in the morning. Actually four, because we turned the clocks forward. Theoretically, this is very cool—it always felt a little weird that we celebrated Jesus’ death on Friday and only a little over 24 hours later, his resurrection. Celebrating Sunday morning would actually make it the third day. In practice, however, my body was not used being in church so early. Exciting though it always is for to me be up before the sun, I quickly realized that 5 (4) a.m. was really quite early to be sitting in a cold, dark church, especially without caffeine beforehand. I found myself annoyed by every little thing, like that you had to buy the candles, or that it was just impossible to heat such a huge old church. The gorgeous words of the prayers that make Easter Vigil possibly my favorite Mass of the year just seemed like far-off words, and the readings somehow managed to bring to mind nearly every major political or philosophical dispute I’d had since I got here. I was on my way to being very tired and grumpy, all alone in the darkness with only my negative political thoughts and my guilty feelings about things from the past to keep me company.

Suddenly, however, it was time for the Gloria. The lights came on, the church bells rung, the organ played. I nearly cried upon being able to see the faces of the people around me (at such hours I’m predisposed to being emotional). At that moment it hit me that there were other people there—that I wasn’t nearly as alone as I’d felt, even though I knew almost nobody. It crossed my mind that Christ is the Light of the World, the Morning Star as the Exultet proclaims, and that his light is able to free us from the prison of ourselves and our same old thoughts and guilty feelings. His light wakes us up to the fact that other people exist, helps us open our eyes to the world around us. His light helps us go outside ourselves (something I need to work on constantly). By the end of Mass, the sun had risen outside. Above the altar there is a huge golden-yellow stained glass window, which I assume depicts the sun, through which light was just pouring.

On my way home, though still tired and looking forward to some hot coffee, I stopped by the cemetery one more time, to announce to all those resting there that Christ was risen (though I’m sure they knew). I caught myself humming the TaizĂ© song “Surrexit Christus”. At first I was worried about bothering the other people who had come to pray, but then I figured, if there was ever a day to sing in a cemetery, it was Easter Sunday! And then I hurried home to share my Easter joy (and chocolate) with my grandmother.   :)

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