This is the kind of service where it pays to arrive early to secure a spot in the pews – in this respect it’s rivalled only by the Midnight Mass at Christmas. Which is why I was very surprised, 10 minutes before it was all due to begin, to look around and see the church half empty. In all there were maybe 60 to 70 people in the congregation as opposed to the couple of hundred I’d been expecting. Strange, and disappointing. Not that this made the service any less wonderful, just less cramped and a tiny bit quicker (it finished before 1 a.m. instead of after!).
Easter is no ordinary time in the church year and this is no ordinary service. Everything about it conspires to make it special and moving. I love the way it begins in darkness followed by the kindling of a new flame. The careful clutching of a tiny candle (of the kind they hand out at Carols by Candlelight but without the crucial cardboard finger protector) does wonders for the concentration. And this is necessary: the first substantial portion of the Liturgy of the Light is chanted at length, in this case most euphoniously by David Russell. So beautiful is it in fact that it can be alarmingly easy to tune out from the words and simply soak up the glorious sound – not what’s intended! This is followed by readings – still in darkness apart from the candles – from the principal Bible stories: the Creation, the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea (read with a great deal of expression) and so on.
Eventually, and this is the thrilling part, all the lights come on and there is a great noise with the random ringing of hand-bells and the organ making a mighty entry (this was Peter Jewkes’s party piece, which I wickedly refer to as “the theme from Babe”). This year, in a gesture I’d not seen before, the choir had also been issued with those curl-up whistles and party poppers. I distinctly saw the flutter of confetti. And why not? The risen Christ is worth celebrating. Alleluia!
Photo note: not taken in church.
PS. There was no pew sheet (another surprise) but I think the mass setting was Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, more formally the Missa Sancti Joannis de Deo. The soprano solo in the Benedictus was especially beautiful.