For me, the most significant sentence in the Book of Common Prayer is the rubric at the beginning of the Great Easter Vigil: In the darkness, fire is kindled. The Vigil is observed sometime between sundown on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday. Before the procession begins, the clergy make a small fire from which the new Pascal Candle is lit.
I’ve seen it done with the aid of paper and rubbing alcohol with the flame taken from a prelit candle and I’ve seen it done with a match and kindling, both methods make it less stressful and more likely for the fire to actually catch. I’ve also done it with flint and steel and this method, although time consuming and difficult, more fully fits with the rubric. The fire is kindled, it isn’t taken from something else but made from a single spark.
In the darkness, fire is kindled. In the darkness. The previous days have been dark in God’s kingdom. Through the worship of the Episcopal Church and our own personal devotions, we have witnessed the betrayal and arrest of Jesus and the trial and terrifying walk through Jerusalem to Golgotha. We’ve stood with Mary and the other women at the foot of the cross and watched the life leave Jesus before placing him in the tomb.
Jesus has died and we are left in the darkness. He didn’t vanish, he didn’t go someplace else to hang out for a couple of days, he isn’t resuscitated or awakened on Sunday morning. Jesus is dead and those who watched it happen are in shock and despair.
What now? Why did he preach and teach life and then die. Why didn’t he fight back? Who do we turn to now? What was that he said about raising the temple up?
In the darkness, fire is kindled. A small spark of hope that ignites a small flame. A new life comes to the body in the tomb. In the darkness before the dawn, Jesus is alive again: a new life, not a resuscitation of the previous life.
The mystery and scandal and revolution of Easter morning is that Jesus was dead and now he is not.
And we are invited into this new life with Jesus: a new life in the Kingdom of God here and now. Everlasting life that begins today and with the dawn of every new day so that we, with God’s help, participate in the answer to the prayer ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.
The joy of Easter is the fire kindled by the single spark of hope. Jesus has given us new life in God’s Kingdom, a life grounded in the Love of our Creator. New life created in the darkness. New life given to light the world with the eternal flame of Love.
Let us pray.
O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, pg 285)