Sunday, April 08, 2007
This year I was privileged to serve as crucifer at the Easter Vigil service at my church. I say privileged because, not only do I love this service, but it is also a very complex service and I take it very much as a compliment to ask to serve on that night. We start with the church in complete darkness. Our rector, then, lights a fire in a brazier and the service begins. Much of the early part of this service is a meditation on light, so, as we slowly process up the centre isle, halting every few steps, the Paschal candle leading the way. Watching the Paschal candle burning in the pitch dark and slightly smokey church (the thurifer was out ahead merrily making smoke)is something I cherish and watching it from the back of the procession was a rather different perspective than I usually have. At each stop, the Master of Ceremonies lit more candles until, when we reach the front, the whole procession and congregation are holding candles and the whole church is bathed in the soft candle light. It was a wonderful moment.
Of course, what we are invoking in that procession is the light of Christ, briefly suppressed after the horrific events of Good Friday, but breaking forth anew in the apparent darkness. We are also remembering that, as dark as this world can get, the light that Jesus gives us continues to shine and continues to give us hope for a better world. It is, ultimately, that hope which keeps me Christian, despite my failures and my shortcomings which are, all too often, before my eyes. I know that I'm far from perfect as a human being or a follower of Christ, but I also know that Jesus gives us hope that all will be redeemed, perhaps not in this world, but, certainly, in the next.
This Lent has been a rather too busy one. What with having a new baby in the house and added work pressures, I found it very difficult to spend a lot of time meditating or praying, past the minimal prayers I do at the beginning and end of the day. I missed that and I think a lot of my feelings of being stretched are related to this. It isn't that Lent was unrelieved busyness. We had a wonderful vacation in Palm Springs in March with my wife's mother and, of course, I found time to relax on weekends, when I could. But, I missed the meditation time and I think I realize that I need to make that time as I enter into the home stretch for school in May and June.
What did come up this Lent was the theme of conversion . Conversion came up because I'm sitting on the Christian Ed. committee at my church and we're trying to work out how to do a Christian Basics course. In the course of our discussions, I started to think about my own conversion fifteen years ago (has it been so long?!). In some ways, of course, it seems slightly wrong to talk about a specific date for converting because I feel like I'd been at it for years. My family respected Christian values and encouraged them, even if they weren't church goers by the time I came along. My own seeking began in my last year of high school when a dream set me on the path of trying to figure out my spirituality, even if I didn't know I was doing it at the time. By university, I was reading and writing about topics in religious history-indeed, in one term, I was writing 5 out of 6 papers due that term on religious topics). All that came to a head in my first Masters degree, when I started praying and going to an Anglican church. And I've been going ever since.
When you set out the facts of a conversion as I have just done, it doesn't look that momentous. Like many people, I experienced a slow slide to faith, not a sudden 'Road to Damascus' conversion. What I think I was really looking for was not the kind of things that many people assume that faith is about--reassurance, immortal life, a feeling that I was better than anyone else. The first two things in that list come into it, but, first and foremost, I think I was looking for hope. That is, I came to believe that, if I was left to my own devices, I just wouldn't be able to deal with the world as it is. What faith promised me was that there was hope for something better than this world (not that it is all bad, but there is too much bad in it) and that I can participate in God's efforts to make it better, person by person, moment by moment, here and now.
At the end of the day, I honestly believe that Jesus died and was raised again, physically, as the decisive act in redeeming the mess that we human beings have done to God's Creation. He became human like us, died (perhaps in a more horrific way that most humans do) and rose again because that is what he had to do to break the powers which were destroying us and the world. Those powers are out there still. Even though we all know that their power is broken, they still create a lot of havoc. Yet, God's goodness is breaking out among us all and that is what gives us hope, even when that hope is a candle shining in the pitch dark world.