As you read this, Christians around the world are preparing for the celebration of Easter. The first service of the resurrection is held on Saturday night after sunset. Known as the Easter Vigil, it is the most ancient liturgy in our tradition. The origins of this service can be traced back to the 2ndcentury. Ancient words remind us that: “on this most holy night Jesus Christ passed from death to life!”
The Vigil begins in darkness. People gather around a fire pit outside a church. There is silence as the first fire of Easter is lit. Traditionally flint and steel, not matches, are used. Whether it is raining, snowy, windy or still, those gathered wait in expectation, looking for the glimmer of a spark, wishing for a flame to take hold. It is a reminder of how fragile some beginnings can be.
Once the fire is burning, a large candle is lit from it. This candle symbolizes new life rising from a darkened tomb and represents Christ, the light of the world. It is taken carefully into the church. Called the Paschal candle, it remains lit for the season of Easter, and is present at baptisms and funerals.
Once inside the church, the Paschal candle is used to light the small candles held by the congregation, and a tide of candlelight breaks into the darkness. A single voice proclaims “the light of Christ” as it is carried to the front of the church. An ancient song is then sung, joyfully proclaiming “Jesus Christ is risen”.
In the gentle light of the candles, ancient tales harkening back to beginnings are told. It is as if everyone is gathered around a mystical campfire. Time slows and it almost seems as though the stories are being heard for the first time.
When the moment comes to proclaim the resurrection, light floods the church, joyous sound shatters the darkness and the candles people have been cradling are extinguished. It is almost a shock.
The resurrection story of hope and new life is told. And for some this night marks another new beginning though baptism, confirmation or re-affirmation of faith.
This cosmic drama began with the struggle to create a tiny flame. New beginnings are a struggle. First attempts to travel a new path are rarely successful. When we try something radically different, we imagine it should be easy. Words like transformation and healing imply the journey from caterpillar to butterfly is effortless. It isn’t. The courage which animates repeated attempts at new beginnings should be praised.
Those who struggle with substance use, talk of the multiple times they have tried to break patterns. Sadly, some who are not caught under the poisonous blanket of addiction fail to realize how difficult it is to light the fire of hope and recovery. The fact a spark is there, even momentarily, marks a major accomplishment.
The struggle to light the new fire each Easter Vigil is an important reminder of our need for courage and forgiveness for ourselves and each other. Even the smallest spark can grow into flame and become light for the whole world!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Alleluia, Christ is risen indeed!
The Reverend Canon Nancy Ford, Deacon, is the Anglican Director of Deacons for the Diocese of British Columbia and Deacon to the City of Victoria out of Christ Church Cathedral.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, April 20th 2019