People become priests for different reasons. Some people crave the power (that is a big let down, let me tell you), some people want to take care of other people. Me, I wanted to rebuke Jerry Falwell, and also to sing the Exsultet so I could travel through time.
It’s always nice to achieve your childhood dreams.
Here’s what I said at the Easter Vigil.
When I was a kid, my greatest wish was to be able to tesser. I had read, and adored the book by Madeleine L’engle, A Wrinkle in Time, and my greatest wish was to be Meg Murray, a stubborn and feisty preteen girl who travels through time and space to save her father from the creeping forces of evil. She also has the power to ‘wrinkle time’—Madeleine’s way to describe the 5th dimension, or how a person would create a wormhole to instantaneously move through time and space. (this is an actual quantum physics thing— which is even better.)
THIS BOGGLED MY MIND and I spent hours in my backyard, in vain, focussing all my mental energy, trying to pull off a tesseract. I didn’t really want to go anywhere in particular, or any time in particular—I just wanted to no longer be limited by time or space—both of which, I was aware, worked to separate me from people and places I loved. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if neither of those things limited me?
Of course, my hours in the backyard staring at that one pine tree came to nought. I cannot, I confess to you, move through the 5th dimension.
But I do have the Easter Vigil.
For those of us non-time travellers, this Vigil is probably as close as we come to moving through time and space. This is the night, after all, when we sit in the darkness and recount God’s saving deeds throughout history, and then witness again, how God still redeems and saves us today. This is the night when the light breaks forth from the utter void once again, and we get to see it.
The Exsultet is the ancient prayer sung at the beginning of this service. It’s the long chant I sang to the Paschal candle about how great it was, and how brightly it shone, and all that. This is one of the oldest prayers we have, if not THE oldest. It was written around the 5th century, with major parts coming from even earlier. St. Augustine makes reference to it in his writings from the early 4th century. It’s old.
And, quite frankly, it’s odd. Aside from the oddness of singing to a candle (which….a bit ago we were conjuring a fire and praying over it so it’s relative) listen to the words we’re saying. “This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight.” “this is the night when Christ overcame sin and death, and washed away Adam’s sin.” “This is the night when you led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” “How holy is this night! When to redeem a slave, you gave a son!”
According to the Exsultet, everything is somehow happening at once: the deliverance of Israel at Passover, the resurrection of Christ, the defeat of death, and the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil and sin which continue to hinder us. In the context of this unusual prayer, all of time, all of space, is condensed into one, glorious, shining night, as God blazes into the darkness, and saves us.
In this glorious night, God defeats the barriers of time and space, as Christ defeats the barrier of death, and we witness again our redemption. It’s a reminder that God is not limited by anything—not history, not the ravages of time, not distance, and not even death. God is god of all of it, and overcomes all of it to be present with us.