Thursday , April 04, 2013 - 12:18 PM
Easter Sunday morning I sat in church, the first leg of my semi-annual visits, the other being Christmas. I was surprised to find that the focus wasn’t on Easter. There were no flowers or ornate decorations. I paused to think of my former experiences while living in the California desert where I had for years been an integral part of Easter vigil on Holy Saturday.
My role as cantor was to sing the Easter proclamation after an elaborate processional entrance in which the congregation lit their candles from the Paschal candle as the priest, deacons, altar boys and others walked from the entrance up to the altar. From the lectern the Proclamation is sung in Gregorian chant and takes three to five minutes to complete depending on whether you use the short or long version. The words are powerful beginning with — “Rejoice heavenly powers sing choirs of angels” — and recite the glory of the risen Christ. “Jesus Christ our king is risen, sound the trumpet of salvation.” It ends with — “Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled with God.”
Meanwhile back in Utah my church service includes hymns about the risen Christ and proceeds on to the core of the meeting, the bearing of individual testimonies. Young and old alike rise from their seats and walk up to the podium to bear testimony of their love of Christ. Grown men and women search their souls and proclaim their belief in the Savior and often speak of how this has changed their lives and deepened their love of family. Often they are overcome with emotion and must stop, their voices are strained and cracked — tears freely fall down their cheeks, tissues are snatched and used to blot the tears — composure is regained and each is able to continue.
There is something very real and poignant about witnessing someone struggle to find words that truly reveal what is in their heart. The heartfelt emotion of the individual bearer permeates the congregation and many an eye is filled with tears and pained but joyful smiles are cast toward a neighbor. Congregants are in concert with the humble expressions these testaments of love of the Savior. Love of the risen Christ is palpable in the room.
This is so even when the very young stand up and give their testimony. Some testimonies may sound perfunctory but who can say what is in a person’s heart, we each, young and old, have our own ability to express how we feel about something that truly moves us.
After chanting of the Easter Proclamation, Easter vigil service proceeds with numerous readings, responsorial, and hymns in celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The Paschal candle stands at its appropriate place on the altar. The service concludes with blessings on the congregation and another procession back down the aisle. The congregation is filled with love and reverence and renewed faith. It’s important to remember this about ceremony and symbolism; many early Christians were illiterate as were many for nearly two thousand years, and relied on ceremonies and symbols to understand the message of Jesus Christ.
Though Christian sects have differing ways of observing Easter and other Holy Days the real objective should be who we thank, not how we thank.
Reynolds lives in Pleasant View.
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