Throughout the Lenten season, we have been posting reflections for holy days and Sundays from both this year’s Lenten reflection booklet, Witnesses on the way, which includes all-new reflections written by National Council Chair Charlene Howard and her husband Michael Howard (and daily reflections from newly-named Ambassadors of Peace) and from previously published Lenten booklets, such as the one below, written by Dorothy Stoner, OSB, in 2000. Click here to see all reflections as well as links to other Lenten resources on our Lent 2023 webpage.
REFLECTION FOR holy Saturday-easter vigil, April 8, 2023
by Dorothy Stoner, OSB, originally published in 2000
We gather tonight – the holiest of nights – for the Easter vigil. It’s the highlight of my year, but this is the first time I have ever really stopped to ask why. Oh, I know the church says that it is central to our liturgical year and our life, but this is a different question. Why is it central for me?
Certainly part of the appeal is that I get dressed and drive out to the monastery at night, once it is dark. You see, I’m a “night person” at heart!
Beyond that, though, there is something about gathering together with others in the dark that somehow makes it easier to settle into the silence. I find it comforting to know that so many of us have come together. It’s comforting to experience the sense of oneness that begins to envelope us, slowly at first but very surely as the anticipation begins to heighten. I can’t see the detailed features of anyone’s face, but I know they are there – with me.
And then we see it! First a tiny flame, then a roaring fire. It’s begun! We settle in again for a mythic evening of story and song and dance, of fire and water, of bread and wine.
I never cease to be amazed as I watch how quickly the monastery chapel can be filled with light as we each light our tiny tapers from the taper of another, from that tall, stately “Paschal candle,” from that simple, single fire that blazed forth only a moment ago. I don’t think about it, I merely watch in wonder, and wait for my candle to be lit, too.
I wait for the water … I am always disappointed if the one who comes down my aisle with the Easter water of blessing is skimpy with the water. This is the night of excess. This is the night when we should have no doubt that we have been washed in the waters of baptism….
Our family stories begin. Let’s tell them all, every one of them. I want to know about my family members. I need to hear their names, how they struggled, that they messed up but tried again to get it right, about the ongoing, developing relationship between them and God. We settle in once again to share the story, our story, my story.
I’m ready to say “I believe!” “Yes, I do believe.” This is important to me. It shapes who I am and how I live my life. It shapes who I want to become. I know this is truth. Tonight, I want to say it aloud, with everyone else who’s surrounding me.
This night is one time I am not “in my head.” I don’t need to analyze what is happening and why. This is the one time each year when I don’t wrestle with thinking of God as warring and brutal. Tonight (with the exception of the story of Abraham sacrifice/willingness to kill his son) I can just be caught up in the ancestral narrative. I am comforted, challenged, energized by the tales – yes, even entertained. I am excited by the fire. I want to play in the water. When everyone else says, “I believe” I want to shout out, “Me, too!”
This night is different. This night we return to the waters of our birth. We gather ‘round the fire to be warmed, to hear the stories, to know we belong. This night we allow our deepest longings to lead us, and we know that it is good.
This night I hear of Resurrection. We are told that the One who was crucified is not dead, but is alive. I know that this experience in the deepest recesses of my being. It’s true that from dying comes rising. From death comes life. I have lived this truth. I have been surrounded by it. Tonight this truth that I have known is given new meaning, new richness, new depth. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. I believe this. And for tonight that’s all that is important. Amen. Alleluia.
Dorothy Stoner, OSB, is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA and served as a faculty member in the Philosophy/Religious Studies department at Mercyhurst College. A pastoral minister, she is a frequent retreat leader, speaker and facilitator.