Image: Tundra Rainbow
Shortly after I was ordained a priest I ventured, at the invitation of the local Bishop, into a small Cree village in northern Alberta to celebrate Easter with the people who lived there. It had been some time since the community had seen a priest for a whole Easter weekend and even the last resident Religious Sister had retired from the community several years before. The three holy days of the Easter Triduum were therefore a bit of a mystery to the residents and I looked forward to sharing the richness of the liturgies with them, particularly that of the Easter Vigil.
Saturday evening arrived and, with dusk falling, we gathered outside the small wooden church to light the Easter fire. For as many people who were gathered in the close circle around the fire, there were at least twice as many large dogs, roaming free and very curious as to what these humans were up to. The fire lit and bathing my face with warmth, I began the solemn prayer of the blessing of the new Pascal Candle. With the stillness of the night broken only by the crackle of the fire and the words of my prayer I came at last to the final Amen at which all of the dogs, in unison, as if led by an invisible canine conductor, broke into a mournful howl signalling their own acclamation to the prayer.
Later, after the Vigil was concluded and most of the people had wandered back to their homes, I sat with a few elders and inquired about the strange occurrence with the dogs. In this community I had discovered that signs and dreams were a part of everyday conversation and so I asked, “When the dogs howled at the end of the prayer, do you think that was a good sign?” The elders looked at each other curiously and began to converse in Cree. The discussion continued far longer than I would have expected until finally it stopped abruptly and they turned their attention back to me. Their answer… “We think so”.
“We think so”. Not exactly the rousing affirmation I was hoping for but yet how honest and appropriate an answer when we are experiencing something strange and new for the first time and are still waiting to see the outcome.
For those of us who know the Easter story, how quickly we rush to the end, the part where everything turns out alright. But put yourselves in the shoes of the first disciples. For them the night of the first vigil was still dark, they were still afraid and all they had to cling to was each other and the hope that things would turn out alright and that God would not let them down.
Tonight as we celebrate the liturgy of the word we don’t begin with the assumption of God’s commitment to us but rather we experience the reassurance of God’s faithfulness by recalling our salvation history and telling the stories of how God has always been faithful to us in the past.
Was Abraham certain that sacrificing the life of his only son at God’s request was the right thing to do?.. He desperately hoped so.
Were the Israelites sure that God was with them as they fled from the Egyptian army through the Red Sea?.. They fearfully guessed so.
When the people angered God by worshiping Idols and voiding the covenant did they really believe that God could or would forgive them?.. They earnestly longed so.
And every time God came through and never let them down.
Do you believe God will come through for you? We don’t know what tomorrow will bring but need not be afraid. We do know that God has always been faithful to us til now so we live with the faith that God will continue to be faithful tomorrow and forever. We are people of hope, not a naive hope but a hope based on a history of the love that God has shown us.
We have come to know the risen Lord and the hope that brings. Let’s live our lives in the light of that promise.