A special Easter

Easter Saturday Night at Byron Bay. The church was in semi-darkness and except for the odd sniffle there wasn't a sound. The visitors to the small-town church wondered what was going to happen. There was an air of excitement about the place.

A small spotlight came on up the front to show the priest standing at the microphone.

“Welcome friends to this very special celebration,” said Fr Rex Hackett. “We not only have our Easter Mass, but three baptisms as well! I wish you all a very happy and holy Easter.”

Off went the spotlight.

“Oh no, not one of these long, drawn-out affairs.”

“I told you we should have come here tomorrow morning, Harry.”

These were the typical tourist remarks heard from down the back of the church. But then the whole thing started and nobody, but nobody, said one more derogatory word that night!

The organ, or complete symphony orchestra as it turned out to be, started playing ‘Alleluia He is coming’ slowly and quietly. Then the choir, about six people, joined in and from the door at the side of the altar there appeared a very large wooden cross.

It moved over to the right-hand aisle and now Fr Rex, not a tall man, could be seen in the dark walking slowly holding it in front of him. As he walked up the aisle the choir sang.

I looked up and I saw my Lord a-coming

I looked up and I saw my Lord a-coming down the road

Alleluia, He is coming, Alleluia He is here.

Image: The  front page of the original story by Jan Keogh that appeared in The Majellan in 1989.

 

Across in front of the altar went the cross and now the music and voices swelled.

Alleluia, He is coming, Alleluia He is here.

Father Rex carried his burden across the back of the church and over to the left-hand aisle as the choir with brilliant music behind them sang.

I looked up and I saw my Lord a weeping for my sins

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here.

Across in front of the altar went the cross and now the music and voices swelled as the cross, held higher now, came travelling slightly faster up the centre of the aisle.

I looked up and I saw my Lord a dying

I looked up and I saw my Lord a dying on the cross

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here.

Down to the back of the church and there was a loud blast of trumpets. Father Rex turned and now holding the cross very high walked, head proudly thrown back, with a strong, determined stride up to the front near the altar.

I looked up and I saw my Lord a­rising

I looked up and I saw my Lord a­rising from the grave

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here

Alleluia He is coming, Alleluia He is here.

By now the music was thrilling and the voice of the choir vibrating with joy as the last verse and chorus was repeated. With the same proud, fast walk, the priest went around the church once more and ended up in front of the altar in a pool of light, holding the cross as high as possible. Another blare of trumpets and a crashing of drums as all of the lights in the church suddenly blazed on.

There was silence.

Then the whole building erupted with spontaneous joyful applause, the little children, the parents, the old people and the teens. And they weren’t applauding the priest, the music or the singers even though they had all played their parts magnificently.

No, these people were applauding the cross. They were applauding the fact that this spectacle had made it more real to them. That yes, Jesus Christ is risen. He lives. He is here!

There was a collective ecstatic sigh from the congregation and one comment was heard from down the back, “Wow!” As if this was just an everyday occurrence (and who knows maybe it is), Father Rex calmly put the huge cross back in its place behind the altar and then started the Mass. A little way into the Mass, the priest stopped and said, “And now I would like you all to welcome Anne, Patrick and Maree.”

Enthusiastic clapping. Up the centre aisle, a lady dressed in a black shirt and jeans came with her sponsor. She was followed by two families, the mothers both carrying their babies dressed in ordinary outfits. Over to the side near the altar, they all went to what seemed to be a collection of plants (who had had time to notice anyway).

Now as Father flicked a switch, out gushed the water which turned the ‘plant corner’ into a beautiful waterfall baptismal font. Anne, the lady in jeans, stepped in and knelt down in the water. Father baptised, tipping water over her from a large jug. Everyone clapped. Next the babies. Their clothes taken from them; they were each dipped three times into the water as the prayers were said.

The ‘waterfall font’ obviously had a warm water tap attached because these little ones enjoyed every minute. And as each one was held aloft in their innocence and calmly looked around at us all, there was more delighted clapping. Then they all left by the back of the church to change into dry clothes.

The Mass continued with every one’s awareness of God heightened by the things we had witnessed. There was another small procession, complete with the sound of trumpets, as they all came back into the church. This time Anne was in a lovely white dress and the babies in their beautiful christening robes.

Father Rex said, “My friends, our newly baptised members of the parish community.”

They were welcomed with you guessed it, more spontaneous applause. (There was no such thing as polite, bored clapping in this church)! The whole night was special. It certainly made this particular Easter memorable to a lot of people. The joy in these people, and if they read this, they will certainly recognise themselves, was God-given.

To them, Fr Rex and their music makers, I say on behalf of all the visitors who were there that night, “Thank you so much and God bless you.”

This edited article first appeared in the April-June 1989 issue of The Majellan.

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