Light comes into darkness not darkness into light
The weeks of Lent seem to disappear so quickly and here we are on the verge of Holy Week. It is at the point of tiptoeing into the Palm Sunday weekend that fills me with the thought of needing to take things a day at a time.
One glance at the programme of services across the team of churches this coming week (they are listed on the website under news and events) gives plenty of room for meditating on the Passion of Christ, culminating on Good Friday with the Three Hour Service in St Mary’s from 12.00 noon to 3.00 p.m.
A service that some people may be much less familiar with is the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, 31st March - Easter Eve, sometimes called Holy Saturday. This service reminds us of the whole history of God’s work of the salvation of his people. An important element of the service is the re-affirming of our baptism (and more on that in a moment) but most obviously it is the lighting of the Easter fire; the blessing and dedication of the new Paschal Candle, and it, carried by a deacon, leading us into a dark church, as we enact the light of the resurrected Christ breaking the gloom of crucifixion and death. It is a wonderful service, and we share the light as more candles appear, and the church assumes its Easter glory and joy, reflecting our Alleluias at the news that Christ is risen.
Some people find it much more natural to do this at dawn on Easter Day - and indeed we do that as well on the beach at 6.30 a.m. with Churches Together (and I look forward to that too) - but the new day for Jesus and his followers began at sunset on what we would think of as the previous evening. Besides, we don’t know at what time in the night Jesus rose. He was only seen first at dawn.
The first leaders of the early church were those who had physically witnessed their resurrected Lord, and Easter for new converts to the faith became a time of baptism. Hence, we re-affirm our baptismal vows at this time too. It can be done in different ways, but we note that it is not a repeat of our baptism; we are only baptised once, and for most of us that is as an infant, when our promises are taken on our behalf by our sponsors, or godparents.
When Helen and I were in Greece recently, on pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul, we stopped at the river near Philippi where Lydia was baptised by St Paul, with her whole household. Several people in the group got right down into the water, whilst Helen and I crossed each other on the forehead with water taken from the spot; some from All Saints will re-affirm their baptism this coming Sunday, by getting right down into the water too, and more of us on Easter Eve in St Mary’s.
But, this week ahead has so much to ponder, as we recall the Last Supper, try to stay awake with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, share Peter's agony of denial, walk the Via Dolorosa, stand or kneel on Good Friday at the foot of the Cross, and absorb, as well as we can, what our Lord has suffered for our sake. We look into the darkness before glimpsing the light that we know has come into the world.
Pilgrims at the baptism site of Lydia and her household, near Philippi (Acts 16:15)