I remember when a priest friend of mine from North Carolina came back from his first visit to Uganda. He talked about his experience going to mass in a parish in Uganda. The service was very lively and energizing, he said: there was music, clapping, dancing, an offertory procession with gifts of produce and live animals, animated preaching, personal testimonies, communion, etc. The service lasted from ten in the morning to three in the afternoon. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Bob said, “but it also felt like too much of a good thing.”
That is kind of how Easter feels, or at least the Easter Vigil service I attended. The service started at 8 PM, and we did not get out till around 11 PM. Moreover, the service was so full of lively music and rich symbolism: from the blessing of the Easter fire; the lighting of the Easter candle; the procession (led by the Easter candle) into the dark church, which gradually became filled with the glow of flickering lights from our small candles; the aroma of incense; the signing of the Exultet, the readings (we did 5 instead of the suggested 7); the singing of the Gloria and great Alleluia; the gospel proclamation; the blessing of the baptismal water; the baptism and anointing of the newly baptized; the renewal of the baptismal promises; the Eucharist… Not only was the service packed with lots of activities, everything was excessive. Talk about “too much of a good thing.”
I had received news about some disappointing developments at home that Saturday morning. As I drove to the Vigil service, I was still feeling sadness and anguish from the news. The gift of Easter that I distinctly remember is that when I was driving home later that night after the Vigil service, I was feeling completely different. I still remembered the news from home, but the sadness and anguish that I felt earlier in the day had disappeared. In fact, I was feeling very hopeful about the whole event. Somehow, in the three hours of the “too much of a good thing” as we participated in the drama of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, Easter had happened. Anguish, fear and sadness had given way to hope and joy.
What the three hours of Easter Vigil confirmed is that Easter does happen: God does indeed Easter (a Franciscan priest taught me to see Easter as a verb) new life, hope and joy in our lives, but that takes time for us to even experience or feel it. It also takes a bit of “too much” of God’s grace – an excess of God’s Eastering work, through various symbols, signs, gestures, insights, friendships and community. I hope and pray that you take the time to experience something of this “too much” of Easter during this Holy Season.