I am afraid of the dark after Tenebrae. I walk into the sanctuary after the sun has gone down, and I hear the shuffle of programs and the squirm of young children (was it so long ago I was one of them), as we wait for the new fire of Eastertide.
The priests faces are masked in shadows. The fire leaps ahead, but it is not yet comfort, only a raw hope. I shrug off my coat and lean forward, trying to hear and see that this hope will soon be ablaze in our pews and in our hands, a live light among a hundred candles. But first, the priest must trace the sign of our victory and death’s defeat, make the sign of the cross in the Paschal candle itself, so that it might be a sign to us. He must pray, dipping into the new fire for the light that will now never be extinguished:
May the light of Christ, gloriously rising, dispel the darkness of heart and mind.
I hear these words echo – and the shadows begin to flee. Even at these words, there is more light. The choir has lit its candles from the Paschal Candle, the acolytes – the light-bearers – are bringing into each pew a new flame that dispels the darkness. I can see people I know across the aisle; I can see my old headmaster and his wife standing near the organ. I can see and hear, feel and almost touch, the entrance of the light.
When I receive my own small flame it burns so bright I can no longer be afraid. For the shadows are fleeing, even in the still-dark of our waiting, even in the not-yet of our expectation. The shadows that quickened and hid the Christ candle on Wednesday are already scattering, undone by the new light that is so gloriously rising.
We are saved through nothing but the blood, Jesus said to me on Friday as I stared at the cross shrouded in black. Nothing but my blood, nothing but being entered into it and washed in it, nothing but this radical and frightening story, where I go to be offered up for you, and you see me offered up, you see and taste in the smallest of ways the grief that God pierced into Mary’s heart. Nothing but you, Hil, and me, and my blood poured out. Nothing but the quickened shadows that make you afraid and my light hidden in the tomb. Nothing but your distracted mind, crying in your car over the things I have been teaching you, how hard it is to receive grace, how hard to be a receiver, and not a giver, of love.
Nothing but my blood.
That’s what it means to be saved.
And so, on the Holy Night, when I am spent with crying over my selfishness, over all everything I failed at during Lent, over the stupid blog posts and the mean words, over the ungracious dismissals and even less gracious longing?
This is what it means to be saved: to hear prayer loud in the ever-lightening sanctuary: Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages to him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.
Nothing but his blood will save me. But Christ is the Morning Star who knows no setting. In Him we light this candle. In Him we sing the first, breathless alleluia.
I stand amid the shouts of Easter praising, silent, black dress and pink cardigan smudged with all my trying and striving and failing, my feet tired in their polished shoes, hands uplifted.
To be saved through His blood. To be saved through the ever-burning Light. There are no more shadows this night.
I can hear Him draw near to touch my face, in the strange silence between shouting church-people and bright lights in the sanctuary and though He is not touching my face, He is. Lord? I whisper. I close my eyes and feel Him smile. You have saved me.