Sunday, April 16, 2006

As Morning Breaks

There's a line from the "Liturgy of the Hours" that has always impressed me:

"In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine
on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

This will be my last post-overnight shift reflection. There have been some overnights that I ached to see the sun rise. Sometimes it felt as though all I could do was to just "hang on" and hope that morning's light would set aright all that was in chaos.

Last night, however, was not such an evening. I fell asleep in a confessional at 11:00 pm (since our office is being renovated, there's only one on-call room which I ceded to the other chaplain) and woke up at 5:45 am. This never happens! No traumas, no deaths, no emergencies. I'm now eating porridge and drinking coffee, writing this, and watching as the sun slowly creeps above the horizon.

In a way, I suspect my overnight experiences prefigure the Easter Vigil. Indeed, my first task yesterday was to lead with the other chaplain a prayer service for 75+ college students who had gathered to support one another as two of their friends struggled to survive after a terrible car accident. We moved these students down into the chapel and led them in prayer. Having been asked to do so, I offered some brief reflections and I pointed out to them that they occupied a space like that of the apostles after the death of Jesus. A terrible and unexpected tragedy had taken place. Lives had changed. A life had been lost. Hearts were battered and broken. And all day Saturday did the apostles not begin to gather in fear and trembling?

So much of our lives are spent in-dwelling the Holy Saturday. We await in the daily grind and the humdrum nature of our existence the flowering forth of God's grace and mercy but, oh!, doesn't it take a long time! Doesn't it seem as though we wait...wait through the silence...wait through the tears...wait....wait...wait. Soon we begin to be afraid and doubts nag us. The tragedy that has befallen us threatens to define us and our hearts strain forward in search of any thread of hope and we spend hours, days, even years - Holy Saturday is not limited to twenty-four hours in the spiritual life! - in this pursuit.

But our faith is that Easter morning will break upon us. Death itself is pierced through and rather than circumscribing or defining the nature of human life, death is itself incorporated into God's saving plan for all of humanity. Death is lifted up and its stinger removed and it becomes but a comma, a brief pause, that separates us from life eternal.

So from my window I can see the parking lot and budding trees. My shift will conclude in a little over an hour. Easter morning has broken. I turn my eyes eastward to greet the new day and my heart is joyful. And I will follow the day's new rays to my car and I shall go to celebrate the Eucharist and though the overnight portion of my training ends today, the learning I take from it will continue to inform my prayer for the rest of my life.

Happy Easter!
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