Saturday, March 26, 2016

Vigil of Easter

vig-il, noun. /'vij-əl/

1. a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.

2. (in the Christian Church) the eve of a festival or holy day as an occasion of religious observance.

Graphic by EugeneZ used through CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

Easter is the holiest day of the Christian calendar, the day when Jesus Christ, the son of God according to that faith, was resurrected from the dead. The holiday is observed by Christians on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs between March 22 and April 25, inclusive.

Blasphemously, Melvin and I profess to having seen him on the vigil of Easter—two years ago today—at a Daytona Cubs game.

Granted, it is likely that this young man's name rhymes with the part of the arm just before the hand and not geist, the German word for spirit. For what? Spirit. Signifiers abound, as they will when we search for them and sometimes when we don't. If Melvin and I were Christians, encountering this Little Leaguer might have elevated our spirits.

But we are not Christians or adherents of any established religion or spiritual practice. I am an intellectual of a certain stripe, perhaps even a hipster, and I thought myself pretty clever spotting young Christ. That may have been the start of our problems.

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7 (KJV). Was it karmic payback when Melvin and I were woken at 6:00 am on Easter morning by amplified instruments, musicians tuning up for a sunrise service on the beach just outside of our motel?

Or maybe there was no connection between my sacrilegious amusement at Jackie Robinson Ballpark on Saturday, the Vigil of Easter, and our forced observance of the holiday. Perhaps officials in Daytona Beach simply assumed that the desire of non-believers to sleep was not relevant when it issued its permit for the event.

(For the record, the Daytona Cubs split the doubleheader against the Tampa Yankees. The Cubs dominated the first game, postponed from the night before when the entire South Atlantic coast was drenched with rain, 9-1. The Yankees bounced back in the second contest, winning 10-4, shutting out the Cubs after the first inning.)

There was a second service on the beach a few blocks south, which we came across on our way to Bertie's Luncheonette for breakfast. We also encountered a man carrying a banner. Indeed, the truth is often out of focus.

Returning from breakfast, we passed a building stripped to its basic elements. Sleep deprived, stumbling through the mist under an overcast sky, I found the image evocative of Luke 24:1-2, "Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, ... they found the stone rolled away...." (KJV)

Walking around the building, we passed a Buick with a license plate with the three crosses of Calvary, where Jesus Christ and two thieves were crucified, according to the canonical gospels. We returned to our motel, packed and headed off to our planned destinations.

Our first stop of the day was the remnants of Bongoland, now incorporated into the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens. Along with the sights we came to see was a pocket-sized edition of the New Testament, cast into an iron kettle in the ruins of a historic sugar mill.

We continued on to the Daytona Beach Drive-In Church, where we were handed the Eucharistic host and wine as we entered on foot. Not arriving in a vehicle marked us as different but no one was rude to us on this holiest of days in the Christian calendar, nor were we disrespectful.

Later in the day, we walked around the perimeter of Castle Otttis, "created as an original landscape-sculpture... 'Done in Remembrance of JESUS CHRIST.'" Like the license plate above, the three "t" in Otttis also references Christ's crucifixion.

From there we drove to Jacksonville, where we visited the J.P. Small Memorial [ball] Park and the modest but really well done museum beneath the grandstand. Melvin and I then took in a game between the Jacksonville Suns and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Pensacola knotted the score in the ninth but the Suns rallied in the bottom of the frame to persevere, 5-4.

Afterwards, Melvin and I had an enormous supper at the Boston Butt-Hutt, in Callahan. Our last destination of the day was the Folkston Funnel, where we met one lonely railfan, saw not a single train but did witness one last cross.

Hours earlier and on another continent, my brother officiated at Easter services at Christ the King, an Anglican/Episcopal church in Frankfurt, Germany. For him, it was a profoundly meaningful day. That Sunday two years ago was for me instead a surreal experience, when apparent coincidences began to take on a narrative life of their own.

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