We made it to the Easter Vigil most years when I was little, often bundled in down jackets over our frilly Easter clothes.
We could just barely hear Fr. Stan‘s voice, muffled with age and with an aging sound system as he read the opening prayers. Then there was silence while we waited inside the church, twisted halfway around in our pews, wanting to follow the action outside but feeling so odd to turn our backs to the tabernacle. There would be swishing and clanking noises as the fire was prepared, and sometimes a whispered warning to the altar boys with their wide, flammable sleeves. Then more silence, and then . . .
“Christ our light!” would come crackling from the twilight outside.
Then a kind of magic that made you forget your awkwardness: Here came the flame. First we could only see a few points of light in the dark, then a few dozen, then enough to make the dark stained glass flicker, and then only a few pews were left separating you and . . .
some guy with a Bic lighter. Every single damn year, one of our well-meaning brothers in Christ thought he could speed things up, make Easter a little more efficient. No sense standing around waiting for that one flame to make its way all the way ovah heah! Here ya go, yut, no problem.
It makes me laugh now, but it didn’t seem funny at the time. We wanted the real Easter flame, not the fake butane one! Here it comes, contaminating the entire church! Somebody do something!
Well. It’s surely not in the spirit of the risen Christ to get all snippy and say “No thanks” when someone offers you a little light in the darkness.
On the other hand, every other single damn day of the year is a day for substitutes, for good intentions, for not-the-point, for whatcha-gonna-do. Surely we can get it right on Easter. Surely we have that much coming to us. What is more pure than the light of Christ? What is more simple and searing than a candle that divides itself but is not dimmed? When are we allowed to experience this loveliness except in the middle of the night in fragile, early spring, with the ground still trembling from the stone as it was rolled away?
And . . . what if there was more than one guy with a Bic out there, and we just didn’t know it?
I hope you’re not looking for a lesson here, because I don’t have one. We were way too tired to go to the vigil Mass this year. I spent most of Easter yelling at everyone I love the most, and I don’t even know why. I was sorry afterward, if that helps. I was even sorry during. Still, if I were all alone, without all these damn people, I’d get it right. I know I would. Would I rather be alone?
Christ plays in ten thousand places, better in the face of someone who just wanted to help than in someone who loves beauty and is enraged when she doesn’t get it. The idea that hell is other people made me laugh then, but it doesn’t seem funny now. To be alone, getting everything the way I want it: That is Hell.
Come to think of it, I can’t remember a single year when the Easter candle wasn’t adulterated with a helpful, dopey Bic lighter or two. Whatcha gonna do. Even though there never was even one time when we did it right, I still have it in my mind that there was something pure and holy there in that congregation, or else there wouldn’t have been anything to be spoiled.
We don’t want to miss His approach, but we don’t want to turn our backs to Him, so we plant our feet on the ground facing East, we twist at the knee, and we wait for someone else to get it right. And the Lord, too gracious to sigh at yet another night of missed-the-point, came to us without delay.
“Christ our light!” comes to us over an aging system. But it does come. Next time someone offers me a dumb little butane flame, I’ll try to accept it with thanks, in honor of the undimmable loveliness of the Lord. Because ten thousand places is so much better than none.