Keeping Vigil

For three days now, we have been keeping vigil and telling our shared story of the Resurrection, a vigil that will culminate tonight in the great feast of Easter. Our family recently experienced a vigil of our own. My 3-month-old grandniece suddenly spiked a fever and had to be admitted to the hospital with an infection of unknown origin. She is a much-prayed-for child after two very difficult years for my nephew and niece. Because they live more than 2,000 miles away, we could hold our vigil only from afar.

To quote spiritual writer Michelle Francl-Donnay (Not By Bread Alone, 2018): To keep this Easter vigil means to be awake to the possibility that we will be pushed into spaces we would not willingly go, all the while waiting on hope. We waited in hope. Our little one is home from the hospital and recuperating nicely.

I have given you a model to foll0w, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:15)

The vigil we are now keeping as Christians began on Thursday evening. The feast of Holy Thursday has always been especially meaningful for me. I think it’s because of the rituals and traditions that we celebrate only on this night, the connection of Eucharist with humble service in the washing of the feet, and the quiet vigil at the altar of repose. For the past several years, I celebrated the three-day vigil with a camera in front of my face. Because I am the unofficial parish photographer, I wanted to document these important feasts. I don’t like to take part in the washing of the feet (I don’t think anyone likes this), and the camera gives me an excuse for staying on the sidelines. This year, I wanted to participate in a more complete way without camera.


Yesterday, we read the story of the Passion from the Gospel of John, as we do every Good Friday. One passage on the Way of the Cross, not found in John, but only in Luke, resonates with me this week:

If these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:31)

More than 30 years ago, Peter, Paul, and Mary composed a song called “Greenwood”, based on this Scripture passage. I always found the melody haunting and challenging. It became an earworm for me throughout this year’s vigil. It was only when I looked up the lyrics that I realized how relevant are the verses today. The question is even more challenging in that their version asks, “If WE do these things.”

I’ve seen a thousand people kneel in silence
And I’ve seen them face the rifles with their songs
I always thought that we could end the killing
But now I live in fear that I was wrong

The killer and the cynic waltz together
Their eyes are turned into their skulls
They do not feel the bullets in the bodies
They do not hear the dolphins or the gulls.

If we do these things in the greenwood,
What will happen in the dry?


If we don’t stop there’ll come a time when women
With barren wombs will bitterly rejoice
With breasts that dry and never fill with promise
Gladly they’ll not suckle one more life

Is this then the whimper and the ending?
The impotence of people raised on fear,
A fear that blinds the sense of common oneness
Common love and life or death are here

If we do these things in the greenwood,
What will happen in the dry?

Will no one light the candle in the darkness
Will no one be my guide, not let me fall
I’ve lost the sense that tells me where the path is
I feel the chill of winter in my soul
There’s no way I can say the words more plainly
There’s no one left to point at anymore
It’s you and me and we must make the choice now
And not destroy the life we’re living for.

If we do these things in the greenwood,
What will happen in the dry?

Tonight, we will continue our vigil with stories in the dark, as around a campfire, recounting all that has led to Christ’s Resurrection. As Christians, we believe the resurrection transforms what it means to be alive NOW. Quoting Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP (Give Us This Day, March 2018):

Christians do not believe in “the afterlife”, as if we die and have another better life somewhere else. We believe in ETERNAL life, which happens as we are ignited by love of others. When we die, our present “living for God” comes to fruition.






May you enjoy a joyous Easter and may you be open to receive all the blessings that God wants to give you today.

4 thoughts on “Keeping Vigil

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