Sometimes, a guest is received on the front doorstep with great fanfare and elaborate celebration. But sometimes, a familiar friend slips through the back door – no big to-do, no fanfare – just a reach for the hidden key, a turn of the knob and an unhurried step into an open heart.
For me, Easter arrived like the second guest. Sure, I did my part to welcome our Risen Lord at the front door – the great Vigil of Easter, with its darkness and light, silence and song, organ and flute, cantors, musicians, water, incense, Easter fire, Easter candle, all uniting in a great conflagration of Easter joy. I was on the front walk along with my Sisters, our guests, our priest celebrant – all of us gathered at the front door of Easter. But for all the fanfare and jubilation of the Vigil, it was this morning, when I opened the chapel door on my way to Lauds, that Easter slipped quietly through the back door of my heart and pulled up a chair as if to visit for a while.
It was with the bells that Easter slipped in, the bells that call us to Lauds, bells not heard for three long days, silenced by the somber liturgies of the Sacred Triduum. They started ringing just as I opened the chapel door, and their familiar sound moved unhurriedly through the quiet morning as through an open door. No big to-do. No fanfare. Simply a familiar resonance, like an accustomed voice too long unheard, and suddenly my heart was filled with arrival, with presence, with familiarity, with Easter.
Perhaps among the many fruits of our formal liturgy – the ‘front door,’ if you will – is an intimacy with the Lord Jesus such that not only do we receive Him on the front steps with grand and solemn gestures, but we know Him when He slips oh-so-gently into our hearts, an unhurried friend who lets himself in with the key he knows we keep tucked above the lintel. As we continue the liturgies, the ‘front door’ celebrations, of this joyful Eastertide, may they deepen our intimacy with the One who slips quietly into our hearts with unhurried step, a familiar friend who fills us with arrival, with presence, with the profound blessings of Easter.
Postscript: Great fanfare has definitely characterized our Easter celebration here at the monastery. The solemn gravity of the Triduum liturgies gave way to a beautiful Easter vigil last night, beginning with the blessing of the New Fire on the front chapel steps beside spreading magnolia branches, and concluding with Sister Magdalena’s thunderously jubilant organ music after the final hymn. The liturgies today have been equally beautiful. But our celebration hasn’t been confined to the chapel. This morning we gathered for our traditional Easter breakfast of ham, Sister Kathleen’s home-baked Easter bread, and hard-cooked eggs that were hand-dyed and decorated by Sister Eileen and her crew of retreatants and oblates. Meanwhile, Sister Priscilla and a crew of Sisters prepared a beautiful dining room for a festive Easter dinner. At times and seasons such as this, it is ‘all hands on deck’ here at the monastery! Everyone pitches in to create a celebration befitting our Risen Lord.