Hope in the Darkness
Easter Sunday. fr Richard Finn explains how the spreading of the light from the Easter candle during the Easter Vigil symbolizes Jesus Christ as hope in our darkness.
The kindling crackles as it catches in the night breeze; the flames suddenly rise from the bonfire; and the murmur dies away in the congregation as they await the opening words of the Easter Vigil. The hefty paschal candle is scored with the stylus. ‘Christ yesterday and today…The Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him…’. The incense grains are carefully put in place, and finally the deacon’s clear cry rings out: ‘The light of Christ’.
This repeated acclamation as the Easter candle is held aloft re-echoes through the opening of the Easter vigil, sets out in a few short words the symbolism and sense of our Easter celebrations. We rejoice for Christ, the divine ‘light from light’, has triumphed as man over the darkness of death, has risen to eternal life in glory. We rejoice because that event has the most profound, joyous, importance for our own humdrum lives, filling them with a new light and purpose.
We know the darkness all too well – grave sin and petty betrayal, the selective blindness that leaves us unable to see our own faults but acutely aware of others’ misdeeds. It is the darkness in which the suicide bombers target innocent civilians, and in the rich increasingly protect and expand their wealth at the expense of the poor. It is also the bleak night in which we lose a friend, a child, a parent. This darkness had thickened on Good Friday when the disciples witnessed the horrific violence of the cross when all seemed lost.
Perhaps we know this gloom so well that it has grown hard to believe in the light? Yet, the threefold proclamation of ‘the light of Christ’ draws out of the congregation an answering affirmation ‘Thanks be to God’. The shared liturgy instills, refreshes, our faith; it nurtures hope. That’s one reason why we come to Church, to be saved from despair as we are called into the body of believers, to hear the proclamation handed down across the centuries, the apostles’ witness to the resurrection. The light of the Easter candle leads us forward into the church. It is mediated, transmitted to each one of us when we light our own candles from that Paschal candle. In this ritual pooling of the light we rediscover and deepen our faith in the Risen Christ and His Gospel.
Luke’s Gospel is alive to this shared journey into faithful discipleship. The women are at first terrified by the empty tomb. They must be reminded of what they had already learned, but had failed to grasp. The apostles at first doubt the women’s message, dismiss it as nonsense. But each group is led on by the conversation into which they are drawn, whether the women by the angels or the apostles by the women when Peter is stirred to go and look for himself. In this way mourners become preachers. What is more, as Luke’s Gospel continues in the Acts of the Apostles the disciples are readied for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What does the light of Easter then throw up in our lives? Much that we were ambitious for may seem vain, trivial. Perhaps ordinary kindnesses now take on a new significance and urgency as we see them in the light of Christ’s cross and resurrection. We discern not a career but a vocation. If Christ is my beginning, the Divine Word through whom I was made, and my end, the goal of my life’s journey, my every step should draw on gifts which He has given me to bring Him near. If all time belongs to Him, what does He ask of me today, tomorrow and the next? Whatever the specifics, the countless and changing answers to these questions, our acting on these answers articulates, embodies, takes forward the answer given at the vigil to the Easter proclamation: ‘Thanks be to God’. Our actions become a Eucharistic prayer; they share in the eternal prayer of praise and thanksgiving voiced by Christ within the life of the Trinity.
For the Good Friday homily by fr Timothy Radcliffe, Behold the Silent One, click on the link under Recent posts in the right hand sidebar.
For the Holy Thursday homily by fr Thomas Skeats, Sharing the Life of God, click on the link under Recent posts in the right hand sidebar.
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:2|Genesis 22:1-18|Exodus 14:15-15:1|Isaiah 54:5-14|Isaiah 55:1-11|Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4|Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28|Romans 6:3-11|Luke 24:1-12
The image above is of an enamelled triptych, c.1150, found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.