The beginning of our Easter celebrations was Saturday night, with the Great Vigil. We celebrated our history as God’s people; we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ; we renewed our baptismal vows. We celebrated light and life – for all the world.
Part of those celebrations used candles and the new fire – the church has long used candles to represent the light of Christ present in our lives. They are mystical, they are a source of focused joy; as we kindled the new fire we marked that we are moving out of the darkness of Lent to the brightness of Easter. As St. Paulinus in the 4th century declared, noting the numerous candles in the church: “They shine by night and day; thus night is radiant with the brightness of the day, and the day itself, bright in heavenly beauty, shines yet more with light doubled by countless lamps.”
And the flame burned brightly before us. It shines into every corner, just as the Gospel illumines every corner of the world. The flame can ignite other flames, without losing any part of itself, just as our faith can ignite someone else’s faith, without diminishing anything that we have. The flame provides light, assuring us of spiritual protection, just as light offers safety – keeping away those with dark intentions and protecting us from stumbling.
There are many types of light in our world these days, and so we often forget about what darkness truly meant in the ancient world. Candles were expensive; the oil and wax not always easy to come by. And so darkness was known. When the sun went down, doors were locked and people rested. When the sun came up again – what joy to greet a new day. Today, our relationship with light is different: we have switches on our walls that instantly and unendingly bring blaring light into every room in our homes. We have flashlights that allow us to easily – and safely – carry light with us. Our use of candles is now mostly decorative, our reliance on the flame almost non-existent.
Yet for us as Christians, we are called to remember the significance of the candle. It is symbol, it is representation; it speaks of the promise of light, and of our share in that light. While some folks may not understand the paschal candle to be more than a nice tradition, or the individual baptismal candles to be more than a souvenir, we of faith know. We know that these candles mean there is light in the world, a light that the Resurrection assures us will never go out. We know that we are invited to walk in that light – with all the protection that entails. We know that these candles are not merely ornamental, but sacramental; bridging for us the distance between the ordinary and the divine.
In Easter, we celebrate the light of Christ – resplendent, shining, amazing – kindled in the new fire, maintained in our paschal candle, burning deep within us. May we celebrate the gift given us at our baptism: to receive the light of the Risen Christ – and all that it entails – to show that we have passed from darkness into light. May that light so shine before others that they will see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven.
The light of Christ – alive and inspiring and ever-present – thanks be to God indeed!