An article in this morning’s Washington Post reports on some Easter Sunday celebrations in the D.C. area.
One is the 33rd annual sunrise service help by Pastor Amos Dodge at Arlington National Cemetery, at which thousands gathers in the darkness before dawn to mark the the victory of the light of the risen Christ over the darkness of death.
The other is the morning service at Shiloh Baptist Church, attended by the Obama family, at which several children and an adult were baptized.
The Post, as might be expected, presented these as “quintessential Washington Easter scenes,” but I was struck more by their quintessential Christianity. That is, I was struck by the fact that these two celebrations by what we might think of as “non-liturgical” Christians incorporated elements that we would normally associate with “liturgical” Christian traditions: darkness pierced by light, and the death and rebirth of baptism. I presume that these are not communities that are self-consciously appropriating ancient ritual patterns. Rather, it is as if they are simply acting according to the primordial logic of the Easter mystery itself.
It is as if the mystery of Easter naturally makes us turn toward the imagery of darkness and light, of dying and rising with Christ in baptism. What better way to celebrate Easter than by beginning in cold darkness and ending in light? What other act is more appropriate on the day that Christ conquered death than the rite by which we are conformed to that pattern of death and resurrection?
I find it somehow comforting to know that what my own parish community celebrated at the Easter Vigil bears some similarity to the celebrations of these not liturgical Christians. It gives me greater confidence that our liturgy is not simply a set of accumulated human ritual acts bequeathed to us by tradition, but is rather the natural, quintessential expression of the meaning of Easter: darkness and light, death and rebirth.