Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Vigil - Hallelujah

I remember the exact moment that I realized that people actually believed in the tenets of Christianity.  I mean, I didn't think that those who claimed to have faith were lying, but I had a visceral shock when I completely understood, for the first time, that the death and resurrection of a man - the son of God, they said - was real to millions of people.

As you know, I was a chorister at Washington National Cathedral from the age of 12 and I had attended an Episcopalian school since kindergarten.  I was well-versed in the Christian liturgy and had participated in more services than I could count.  But I didn't really comprehend how truly the foundations of the church inspired passion until I sang my first Easter Vigil in 2001.

The National Cathedral was then (and still is, though to a lesser extent now) big on the theatricality of the church, and the Easter Vigil was inspiring in its grandeur.  I remember walking up to the nave from the choir room to find the cathedral in absolute darkness, save for the fire-filled baptismal font at the west end.  As we processed up towards the choir stalls, lit candles in hand, the acolytes passed their flames to the candles of the congregation; by the time we reached the east end, the darkness was punctuated by tiny pinpricks of light along the nave and accented by the basin of fire at the back.

WNC's website explains the Vigil as the holiest night in the Christian calendar: "This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave. Tonight we hear the ancient stories of God’s redeeming work, moving from darkness to light, from solemn chant to joyful song, as we celebrate the glorious Resurrection."

It was the moment of darkness becoming light that awed me in a way I had never experienced before.  At the appropriate time in the service, the dean of the cathedral stood on the steps facing the congregation, his arms outstretched, and proclaimed, "Hallelujah - Christ is risen!"  He had such joy and conviction in his voice as he said it, and, as he did, the lights came on and flooded the cathedral with brilliance, the Easter flowers curled around pulpit, lectern, and rood screen and adorning the high altar catching us in surprise with their glory.  I was floored - he really believed it.  I mean, he really believed it.  Hallelujah - Christ is risen.  He really believed it.  And even though I didn't believe it myself, I was filled with happiness that he did, and that all those in the congregation did, too.

If you believe as well, I hope that you have a peaceful Easter filled with joy, passion, and love.  Happy holiday weekend to you all, dear readers.


  1. Betsy, this is a really lovely post. I was in St Pauls over the weekend and recognized how the design of the cathedral could accentuate someone's experience in their faith. The walk from the font to the altar, lit with candles in the case of Easter Sunday adds to the power of the moment. Add the hymn from the choir, and I can totally understand how people have these strong moments of belief.

  2. It really is a lovely post. I like how despite your misgivings, you have warmth and compassion for those who have beliefs different from your own. Hope you had a great easter :)


I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.