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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Queen of Seasons

Nothing shouts "Alleluia! He is risen!" quite like the trumpet of a daffodil.

Nothing shouts back, "He is risen, indeed!" quite like the pink blossom of the cherry tree.

We are in the midst of the Queen of Seasons, and after a very long, very hard winter, Spring is in the midst of a glorious reign.

Last night, at the Great Vigil of Easter at St. John's, Bowdoin Street in Boston, we sang that wonderful hymn, "Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain".

The words were written in the 8th Century by John of Damascus, translated in the 1800's by John Mason Neale.
'Tis the spring of souls today: Christ hath burst his prison
and from three days' sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give laud and praise undying.
Well, some sins were committed in the name of Jesus for the Queen of Seasons.

There is a wonderful tradition at St. John's which Ms. Conroy and I remember from our days there, more than 25 years ago.

At that time, Ted Mellor was Chief Sacristan and the Master of All Ceremonies at St. John's. Easter was his favorite time of year. He rehearsed us to a faretheewell for the Great Vigil and did not consider us properly prepared until someone burst into tears.

That's only a slight exaggeration.

One moment of levity, however, came when Ted - unbeknownst to the priest - would sneak an Easter Egg into the ciborium or chalice or place it somewhere under the veil.

We would all wait for the moment when the priest would remove the covering from either vessel and - in his or her exhaustion after five long lessons, five sung or chanted psalms, five collects, the renewal of Baptismal Vows, the Gloria, the Epistle, the Great Alleluia, yet another Psalm, the Gospel, The Homily, the Prayers of the People AND the Exchange of Peace - would have forgotten "the trick" from the year before and dissolve into giggles right there at the Table.

Ted said that some sort of little "trick" like this was a tradition in many Orthodox communities because it symbolized that Jesus had tricked the Devil out of death. It was a great Cosmic Joke, said Ted, that we should give some credence as part of the liturgy.

Besides, after all the preparation for this Queen of Liturgies, we all deserved a bit of a giggle.

Ever since we've left St. John's, Ms. Conroy has always put an Easter Egg in the chalice or ciborium or somewhere under the veil. She has colluded with Altar Guilds up and down the East Coast to make this happen - explaining, of course the (ahem) theology of the act - to their delight and, I think deepening joy of Easter.

The other day at lunch, I mentioned the tradition to my rector, Katharine Black, but she seemed unaware of the tradition. When I told Ms. Conroy, she was horrified. Simply, undeniably, horrified.

So, of course, nothing would be done but that Ms Conory would make sure the tradition would be reinstated and continued, henceforth and furthermore, at St. John's.

She went out yesterday afternoon to purchase a chocolate Easter Egg - Cadburry, please - but to her dismay, discovered that every place she went was sold out.

She finally settled for some Easter Egg Bubble Gum, a large rock of a brightly colored pink egg-shaped thing, which would simply have to do for this year.

I tried to slip the egg into the chalice, but there was simply too much frenetic activity for me to do that with any amount of grace or subtlety, so I slipped it into the ciborium which is at the back of the church at the beginning of the service.

This would later prove to complicate matters just a tad.

Katharine didn't uncover the ciborium until the moment of consecration, so she had no idea that this large, Very Pink, Easter Egg gumball was in the sacred vessel.

It had the best effect I've ever seen. Katharine lost it. I mean, full throat giggle. And then, she pulled it together, only to be lost again in giggles. This went on for at least 30-45 seconds but it felt more like several minutes.

Ms. Conroy was very pleased. Some of the folks who were at St. John's when we were there remembered it and were delighted. Of course, we explained what had happened to as many as we could at the Great Lamb Feast which always follows the Great Vigil of Easter (yes, roast leg of lamb, potatoes, asparagus, salad, etc, etc, etc.)

The complication came because, unlike tradition - anywhere, but especially at St. John's - we now had a consecrated Easter Egg. Very Pink. Very Consecrated.

Katharine did exactly the right thing: As she came to distribute the consecrated bread, she slipped the Very Pink, Very Consecrated Easter Egg into Ms. Conroy's hand before giving her the Body of Christ.

After communion, Ms. Conroy looked at me and asked, just a bit off her normal cool, aloof self, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

Darned if I knew. "Put it in the Collection Plate," I suggested.

"No!" she said, "It's consecrated!"

She was right. Of course, she was right.

For no apparent reason, we both happened to look up and there - right in front of us - was the wood carving of The Black Madonna, even more striking with a large vase of Very Pink flowers at her feet.

We both smiled at each other as Ms. Conroy went over to The Black Madonna, reverenced her, placed the Very Pink Consecrated Easter Egg at her feet, blessed herself, bowed, and then returned to her seat.

I'm not sure, but I suspect Jesus was laughing uproariously in heaven. So, too, were the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Now the queen of seasons, bright with the day of splendor,
with the royal feast of feasts, comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem, who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains Jesus' resurrection.
It's a beautiful day here in Boston. The sun is shining. The birds are tweeting happily. The flowers are brilliant in a vast array of amazing colors that span the spectrum of colors known to Nature.

All of creation, it seems, is conspiring together to sing in a cacophony of sounds and a a riot of colors to bring laud and honor to the Queen of Seasons and the King of Creation - the Sovereigns of the Universe.

How could we not but join them?

Happy Easter everyone!

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

14 comments:

IT said...

That is SO FUNNY. Yes, that's exactly the sort of joy there should be!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's always like that with Ms Conroy. Wherever she is, mischief is sure to follow. And, joy.

Happy Easter, IT.

Ahab said...

Too many people assume that faith is about dour seriousness. Laughter has a special place in our spirituality too, as you have pointed out. Happy Easter!

jevcat said...

During the 1979 General Convention in Denver, instead of the usual single opening service for all, groups were encouraged to have their own. I was working for the National Hunger Office, and we had arranged ours in a room at one of the hotels. At the last minute, it was discovered that the hotel had forgotten to provide bread and wine. I bottle of wine was quickly produced, but bread proved more difficult for some reason, and we wound up being provided with a large bowl of small onion rolls, which were duly blessed, broken into small pieces, and distributed. For my sins, I was chalicist and got to see the reactions on people's faces while trying to keep a straight face. Afterwards, someone said, "I never knew Jesus was an onion roll."

IT said...

Happy Easter to you too, Elizabeth, and to Ms Conroy!

Let's just say there's a plastic egg full of chocolates that got dropped, unobserved, into the pocket of somebody's alb today, thanks to you two!

Mary Clara said...

Wonderful!

Singing along with you the wonderful Neale verses, to the A. S. Sullivan tune 'St. Kevin'. I find Sullivan's melodies perfect to express the giddy joy of Easter, with that undercurrent of 'the joke's on you!'

Hope you had a perfect Easter. It was radiant here in Baltimore. All praise to our risen Lord!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ahab - Actually, I think laughter - especially in the face of evil - is the most authentic statement of faith in God

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jevcat - I remember it well. I giggle. Out loud. So did a few of the folks around me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - the tradition lives on! Can't wait to tell Ms. Conroy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Mary Clara. A most blessed Easter to you.

susankay said...

Birda on Twitter!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I am laughing hard...and remembering our discussion of the little one in my parish who felt "slighted" for being empty-handed bringing up the gifts, and grabbed the can of Spaghetti-O's and brought it to the altar along with the bread and wine and water. Ah, yes--the Spaghetti-O's of Christ, the pasta of Heaven.

My other great story was the time I was an usher. A six month old baby carefully watched what was being done with the collection plates, and ceremoniously pulled her pacifier out of her mouth and placed it in the collection plate. I am convinced to this day, that baby knew what she was doing. So I left it in the plate (who was I to refuse this gift?) and as I watched our priest's eyes widen, looking in the plate as I brought it forward, I whispered: "Don't ask. I'll tell you later."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SusanKay - okay.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - I think serious doses of silliness are the absolute delight of Jesus. Thanks for these delightful stories.