#thatmomentwhen

Light into darkness.

Light into darkness.

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A few years ago I stood with five other nattily-dressed Jesuits outside of the cathedral in Chicago waiting for the Easter vigil service to begin. As the warm spring air blew around us we were chatting about all manner of things when the conversation eventually turned to timing. In truth, I turned it there. I asked, “When do we mark the moment of Resurrection?

It was, on the surface, a liturgical concern. Is it during the lighting of the cauldron of fire on the church steps or is it when they carry that huge candle and lead us into the darkened church? Is the moment of Christ’s Resurrection when we hear the singing of the ancient chant, the Exsultet, or the clamorous welcoming back of the Gloria which we haven’t heard in forty days? Or is it the reappearance of the Alleluia, also gone from our collective experience of Lent? Below the surface, I suppose there was something else moving there: How do we know the moment when Christ has risen from the dead?

Somehow, with only five Jesuits present there were seven different and conflicting opinions, and all of them, I imagine, legitimate possibilities. I did not pose the question to be difficult. Still, I think my question and the multiple possible answers that were bandied about spoke to a set of inner desires shared by us all: to feel a closeness to the Risen Jesus, to be with Christ from the moment the stone is rolled away until the moment he ascends into Heaven, that none of us wanted to miss a minute of the glory that is his Resurrection.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as I see the popularity of the internet meme #thatmomentwhen. You’ve seen these, I’m sure: ‘#thatmomentwhen you sit down on the train and realize you have two mismatched shoes on.’ ‘‘#thatmomentwhen you walk through the rain only to discover that when you get to class you had an umbrella in your bag.’ ‘‘#thatmomentwhen your unwieldy hair is cause for a pat down at airport security.’ Some that I’ve seen are funny; some are illegal. Some beg for the use of the sad trombone. Wah wah.

This Easter as I stood outside of a church once more on Saturday night, I still wanted to know the answer to my long-standing question: when is the moment of the Resurrection? When is #thatmomentwhen resurrection happens? The answer, it turns out, is less technical than personal.

At the vigil service this time around I was asked to sing the Exsultet, an ancient chanted hymn of praise that opens the service. It’s offered with no musical accompaniment and runs around 10 minutes and I had been preparing for the better part of a week. As I sang each of the long, lyrical phrases I eventually came to the words that let me know that Christ, who was dead and buried was again among us, raised from the tomb. The words came from my own mouth, in my own voice: “O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.” The phrase, complete with all its wonderful musical ornamentation and delightful melismas, revealed to me the mystery, the wonder, the glory of the night for at the moment I finished the phrase I lost my breath, and I lost my place in the music. I don’t think anyone noticed the pregnant pause that followed or the changed look on my face, but I knew in that instant (mysteriously yet certainly) that Christ had appeared again.

That particular moment was definitive for me; I knew then that Christ was risen, and yet as I looked around I also knew that there were other moments for those gathered that were more revelatory. The student who stood next to me, baptized only a year or so before, blanched when I told her she could blow out her candle during the service. She turned to me with tear-filled eyes and said, “I don’t want to,” her heart laden with Christ rising in her, both in memory of the past and in glory of the present.

Christ was rising over and over again during the service, revealing himself in personal and intimate ways and at different times and moments for each person. Standing among the crowd I understood how the moment when Christ appears is not a technical moment in the rubric of the liturgy but rather a deeply personal and uniquely graced moment of particular revelation.

I finally had an answer to my initial question. I realized that it is not important to nail down the exact moment, as if it were a one-size-fits-all experience. It doesn’t much matter when the Resurrection happened, whether it was late on a Saturday, or early on a Sunday, whether it was during a mysterious, chanted song, or in the proclamation of a poetic ancient text or while we stood silently holding our candles.

It only matters that we experienced it at all. And, of course that we can name it and turn to each other to share the grace and joy of #thatmomentwhen, even with tear-filled eyes and love-laden hearts.

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The cover image, from Flickr user Judit Klein, can be found here.

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