The Old Man had a thing about lights.
Nothing could set him off quicker than a room with a light on and nobody in it. We had strict rules about not turning on any lights until evening, and I can remember sitting quietly at dusk, counting the minutes until a light could finally fill the room.
The Old Man saw light as a gift. And maybe a bit of a miracle. He believed it should be treated accordingly.
For a week during summer, he took us to the mountains in upstate New York. We stayed at a cabin with indoor running water — ice-cold, lake-fed water — but that was it. No lights.
For a city kid, lying in a cot in a cabin in the mountains at night, I truly understood dark for the first time. I could see nothing, not even the outline of my fingers in front of my face. The dark was real, almost a living presence. It was a little scary, and I squeezed my eyes shut to try to force sleep. Then came morning and the sun rose through the cabin window like a heavenly light.
It’s hard in our modern world to appreciate the miracle of light. We are nearly overwhelmed by light. The middle of the night barely exists any more in a town or city as we’ve banished darkness to the darkness.
One of my favorite old books — first published in 1954 — is the “Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs” by Father Francis X. Weiser. You can still get it used through Amazon, but it will cost you an arm and a leg.
Father Weiser describes the celebration of the Easter Vigil among the early Christians:
“From the fourth century on, in all cities and towns the mood of quiet, somber expectancy suddenly turned into radiant exultation and joy at the sight of the first stars in the evening of Holy Saturday. Thousands of lights began to illuminate the growing darkness.
The churches seemed to burst with the blaze of lamps and candles, the homes of the people shone with light, and even the streets were bright with the glow of a thousand tapers.
“At a time when electric lights were unknown,” Father Weiser wrote, “this tremendous annual illumination was overwhelming.”
And then he noted the names of the celebration that come down to us from the writings of the Fathers and the liturgical texts of the time: Sacrum Lucernarium, the “Great Service of Light” or Irradiata Fulgoribus, the “Night of Radiant Splendor.”
Father Weiser cites a poem to the Easter Vigil written in the early fifth century: “Eternal God, O Lord of Light, Who hast created day and night; the sun has set, and shadows deep, now over land and waters creep; But darkness must not reign today: Grant us the light of Christ, we pray.”
Perhaps our greatest sin is making the miraculous ordinary. This is what Pope Francis seems to be warning us about every day. We have to cut through the clutter and get down to the very essential: Christ has risen. No greater miracle ever was. Or ever will be. And our world can never be the same once we have believed in that miracle.
Easter pulls us to the eternal truth that is at the heart of all existence. Easter means the triumph of Christ over sin. Over the power of evil in the world. Over death.
Easter means the victory of light over darkness. Easter means the end of all fear.
I think of the Old Man packing us off to where a kid couldn’t see his fingers in front of his face.
Then the mountain sun in the morning would wake the whole world. And even a kid could understand the miracle.
Have an Easter filled with joy and light.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.