Late to Church on Easter


The Easter vigil is one of my favorite parts of the year. In our church, we start outside after dark. There is a roaring fire burning and everyone gets candles. We proceed into the sanctuary, which is dark, with no electric lights except for the emergency exit signs.

As the procession of Christians carrying their candles goes forward into the church, the light fills the room. We have moved from the darkness of the death of Jesus into the light of his resurrection.

We are staying with my parents for this Easter weekend and they are watching over our early-to-bed kids; needless to say we were excited for the Easter Vigil service at our church. Kid- and fancy-free, we have enough time to stop at Starbucks for some liquid energy before the long and late Mass. (It goes till almost 11.)

8:00 We leave my parents’ house.

8:20 Leaving Starbucks, I freak out a little that I remembered the time wrong for the start of the service. I check my phone, and to my relief, the schedule says it starts at 8:45 instead of what I thought--8:30.

So, we take the long way to church to kill time. When we pull up into the parking lot, it is packed. It’s 8:35.

The fire is burning low. No one is outside.

I hate being late.

The schedule for Holy Week had been up in our church the week before, and I snapped a picture of it with my phone so that I would have it close at hand.

The schedule had been printed wrong, apparently. The service had started at 8:00. Without us. We have missed part of the beautiful drama of the Easter Vigil, and I am frustrated.

Frustrated. Disappointed. Annoyed. Internally whiny. Yes, all these things. I had been so looking forward to this for several months...and I have missed it. Even though I have been conscientious not to be late. Doesn’t matter. I have missed the beginning of the Mass.

Humbug. Not seasonally appropriate, I know, but that’s how I felt.

Our priest has repeatedly told us, “If you’re late, we’re just glad you’re here. Welcome.” So I am grateful as we walk down the center aisle during as we hear about the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters at creation.

I sigh a little, with gladness, at that thought. Father Mark isn’t disappointed in us. Reflecting the kindness of the Father, he is so glad that we come. We have come. That is good.

I am still annoyed, though. Not at anyone in particular. Just the circumstances. Darn.

We hear about Abraham preparing Isaac as the sacrifice and the provision of the ram caught in the thicket. The goodness of God is real.  

The deacon asks us to rise, and the priest prays,

O God, supreme Father of the faithful,

Who increase the children of your promise

By pouring out the grace of adoption

Throughout the world

And who through the Paschal Mystery

Make your servant Abraham father of nations,

As once you swore,

Grant, we pray,

That your peoples may enter worthily

Into the grace to which you call them.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Father...Increase the children of your promise….the grace of adoption...enter...into grace…”

These words knock tenderly at my annoyed heart, and I open the door slowly. I have the joyful grace of adoption. I am here, in God’s family, by his desire and plan. I don’t want to let my annoyance keep the door shut and locked for the rest of the service. And then the Lord speaks to me.

I’m glad that you’re here. You’re right on time.
Think of the servants who labor in the vineyard at all different times of the day. They receive the reward together.
Think of the thief on the cross, who is with me today in paradise.

And I realize that even though we have arrived 40 minutes late to arguably the biggest night of the year for Christians, there is grace for us adopted kids.

That’s the beauty of the church’s calendar landscape. Whenever we come into God’s family by adoption, we are caught up into the rhythm of God’s people, the drama of salvation told in a play that unfolds over 12 months of feasts, fasts, and ordinary time. It repeats itself over and over again, and we, the adopted kids, learn slowly the beat of its heavenly drum. The drama of salvation draws us in. It catches our attention and invites us to come closer to the Father, through the Son, at the pulling of the Holy Spirit.

It’s okay if we come late. It’s a kid-friendly place, this Church. It’s a kid-friendly beat, this rhythm. So I let go of my annoyance and my disappointment. This teacher’s pet and hard-working student lets go, comforted by the promise of repetition of the story. I haven’t screwed all this up--it’s way bigger than me.

And, even if I'm running late because my kids won't cooperate or my car won't start, or because I am misinformed about the start time or my heart is numb and prone to wander,  I will keep coming year after year.

I will keep listening, because it's a good story. 

I will keep responding, because my voice is needed. 

I will keep learning, because the depths of the riches of God's beauty are inexhaustible. 

And most of all, I will keep leaning in to the story, because he is my salvation.