Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega...

The First and the Last - God is the beginning and the end... These are symbols etched into the Paschal candle as it is dedicated and as we begin the Easter Season...

A singing Cardinal awakens me, perched on a bare branch on the Crape Myrtle outside my bedroom window, while I am flooded with dreams and reveries of a moving Easter Vigil spent in the Jesuit parish of Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1794, a stone's throw from Georgetown University...

In the darkness, amidst a sea of flickering candles, the Proclamation of Easter, the Exsultet, is chanted, as it has been for centuries, and it touches me as deeply as it always has...

"Rejoice heavenly powers!
Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne...!"

This liturgy is a veritable feast for the senses...darkness and light, incense rising to the heavens, a community sprinkled with holy water, the holy chrism oil with which new members are confirmed, a full choir of resonant voices, a sea of individual cantors, contemporary piano and traditional organ pieces, a brass ensemble that imparts a regal tone to the liturgy, and need I even say it - so much beautiful music...

The narrative of salvation history begins with the creation story in the Book of Genesis. From where I sit, I can see every gesture that each reader makes, each and every one of them proclaiming the scriptures fervently and meaningfully...

I half close my eyes, and silently form the words of the readings I committed to memory so long ago, and interpreted from an exegetical perspective for students for over two decades...

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..."

We continue on to the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham which is stayed at the last minute - a testament to his great faith in God, and I acknowledge this story as a personal invitation to offer up the biggest obstacles of my spiritual journey...

Then on to the story of Exodus, which is chanted - and then to readings from the prophets - a couple from Isaiah - all interspersed with Responsorial psalms, until all seven readings are concluded an hour and a quarter later...

The catechumens then come forward, to make their confessions and renunciation of sin publicly - to be baptized - and then confirmed from various places around the church, and thus I am able to clearly see the young woman in the aisle literally next to me, visibly moved as her forehead is annointed with the chrism oil, after which she is warmly embraced by the Jesuit administering the sacrament. The church breaks out into loud applause as it welcomes these newest members of its community...

I have a sense of a whole millennia of believers walking this sacred path before us - those that have gone before - somehow now supporting those undergoing the journey in this day - all of us connected and united... Prayers are said, as they were on Good Friday - for all of our sisters and brothers in other faith traditions...

I savor each moment fully, and have no notion of the passage of time, for this time truly seems eternal, like the alpha and omega - without beginning and without end...

There are no words to describe the beauty and magnitude of the evening, and I recall one of the first and most memorable Easter Vigils that I spent in a monastery of Conventual Franciscans while I was a graduate student in St. Louis. I witnessed the conversion of a young man without faith who attended, and I still remember that evening as chilling, for it was a turning point for me as well...

I sit in meditation in the early morning, marveling at the unexpected beauty and journey of this sacred week, for myself, and indeed many others...

I pray to die to old ways and rise to new ones during this Easter season, and beyond...

(Easter Vigil, Holy Trinity Church, in Georgetown, Washington, DC)

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