Saturday, April 15, 2006

Blogging the Monastic Triduum ~ Easter Vigil (The Readings)

Traditionally, the Easter Vigil is when new members are received into the Catholic Church, so the baptisms and confirmations are a part of the rite of the Easter Vigil service. However, we here at the monastery are not a parish and, as such, don't have baptisms or confirmations. Thus, we do our service a good bit differently than you would find at any church you might attend.

Most notably, we split our liturgical celebration into two parts: 7:30 Saturday evening, we gather to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word; then we depart in silence to wait in vigil through the night. 5:30 Sunday morning (time is set based around the anticipated sunrise time) we gather outside for the blessing of the Easter fire and the celebration of the Resurrection Eucharist. But, since it's not time for Part II yet .... let's not get ahead of ourselves!

One of the benefits of splitting the liturgy is that it allows us to not have the time concerns that affect folks in a parish. This gives us the freedom to fully engage in all seven readings as laid out in the lectionary, each with its own responsorial psalm and prayer; many parishes end up just doing a few of the readings, and possibly shortening them. We actually omit the prayer here, keeping with our Benedictine tradition of lectio divina, where we just immerse ourselves in scripture.

While this might sound like an awful lot of scripture, it's actually rather cool, because it takes us through "Salvation History In A Nutshell" .... and here at the monastery, the texts are truly proclaimed, so that adds to it as well – it's not just someone reading at us. (That's another thing I don't always appreciate until I'm somewhere where I don't have it – lectors who proclaim the scriptures instead of mumbling their way through it as fast as possible!)

We begin at the very beginning (a very good place to start. When we read we begin with .... oh, sorry.). We hear from the opening of Genesis:

In the beginning, God called everything into being. And each and every thing that God called into being, he found to be good. Except people. Rather than being called into being, God said, "Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness." So, when "God created human beings in the divine image, in the image of God they were created; male and female he created them" ... God found it very good.

Then we sing Psalm 33, with the refrain: The earth is full of the goodness of God, the goodness of the Lord.

We then move on to a story from a bit later in Genesis:

God puts Abraham to the test. Abraham proves that he is willing to give up even that which is most dear to him for the Lord's sake. And, while some people take issue with the fact that God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, God also sends an angel to be certain that Abraham does not in fact follow through with the task. Although I do often wonder about the conversation between father and son on the way home .... Regardless, Abraham does pass the test, wins favor with God, and is told that "I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore." Included, too, is my all-time favorite line from the Vigil service: "I swear by myself, declares the Lord." heeheehee

Psalm 16 follows, with the refrain: Keep me safe, O God, I take refuge in you.

Next comes the Exodus story, the freeing of the Israelites who are enslaved in Egypt:
Pharaoh has suffered the plagues, the Israelites have had their Passover, and they now stand at the edge of the Red Sea. The story begins with God telling Moses: "Lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea, split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land." It happens as God says, and the Egyptians follow the Israelites into the sea. God tells Moses once more: "Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and charioteers."

The psalm response is actually from Exodus 15 – it is the song that the Israelites sing right after the Exodus: Let us sing to the Lord, who is covered in wondrous glory.

We then move into the prophets. First comes Isaiah 54:
The Lord promises fidelity forever. "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer. This is for me like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth; so I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you. Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you." This one always makes me laugh because it has the word carbuncle, which I always thought was just another one of my dad's made-up words.

Psalm 30 has us singing: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me. I will praise you, Lord, for your mercy. I will praise you, Lord.

Our fifth reading is another passage from Isaiah, this time from Chapter 55:
A beautiful invitation, wherein God promises to provide for our needs. "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare." After telling us to seek the Lord, God reminds us: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." A bit later in this passage, God says "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." Especially interesting if you consider that Jesus is the Word of God ....

Our response now is from Isaiah – With joy you shall draw water from the springs of endless life.

The sixth reading is from Baruch 3:
Israel is initially rebuked for forsaking the fountain of wisdom but is instructed to "Learn where prudence is, where strength, where understanding; that you may know also where are length of days, and life,where light of the eyes, and peace. Who has found the place of wisdom, who has entered into her treasuries?" The glories of Lady Wisdom are extolled.

Psalm 19 is sung – Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The final reading of this evening service, one of my favorites, comes from Ezekiel 36:
God speaks of how he scattered his people in punishment, but now "I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.I will sprinkle clean water upon youto cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God."

We all sing Psalms 42/43 as arranged by Bob Hurd (and heard here) before we leave the church to keep vigil in silence.
Refrain: As the deer longs for running streams, so I long, so I long, so I long for you.

Athirst my soul, for you the God who is my life! When shall I see, when shall I see, see the face of God?
Echoes meet as deep is calling unto deep, over my head, all your mighty waters sweeping over me.
Continually, the foe delights in taunting me: "Where is God? Where is your God?" Where, O where are you?
Defend me God, send forth your light and your truth, they will lead me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place.
Then I shall go unto the altar of my God. Praising you, O my joy and gladness, I shall praise your name.


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