Easter Reflection from Fr Paul
A Reflection for Easter Day 2020 from Fr Paul.
I wish you all a truly Holy and Joyous Easter!
I wonder if you have ever heard the quotation “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. Apparently, these words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, and several other people. It matters little who actually said them first, but it struck me that they have much to say to us on this Easter Day when we are still in lock down due to the Coronavirus – Covid-19.
You see, on this Easter Day, the most glorious day of the year, we join with the whole Christian church around the world in proclaiming and rejoicing in the Resurrection of Our Lord: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (“He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”) Not only do we proclaim this great good news with our mouth, but also visually, the sacred artwork and liturgical furnishings of the church building would normally show forth this self-same message. Even though we may not be in Church, as your priest I want to share with you the meaning of the Pashal Candle which we will light for the first time when we return to the building. The candle itself is designed to portray the good news of Easter. And so the theme of this letter to you all is: “Lessons from the Paschal Candle.”
The paschal candle has been used in the Christian church for hundreds and hundreds of years. The candle is lit as the church begins the Great Easter Vigil, and then it continues to be lit throughout the Easter season. Later on, the paschal candle is used also at baptisms and funerals that occur throughout the year, tying those occasions back to their Easter connection in the resurrection of Jesus.
Now the first and most obvious thing about a paschal candle is that it is . . . a candle! And the purpose of a candle is to give light. The light of the paschal candle is brought in three stages to a darkened Church building and is placed next to the lectern as the priest literally shouts and sings the glorious Easter proclamation. All the other candles are lit from this one paschal candle.
That in itself tells us a story. We and all the other people of this world were sitting in darkness. “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,” the Bible says. That darkness is the grim reality of sin and death engulfing all peoples. We thought we knew better than God. We thought we could do things our own way. That’s the way it is with every one of us, by nature. And it’s so stupid, because we end up lost, groping around in the dark.
Think of the women going to the tomb that first Easter morning. They went to the tomb “on the first day of the week, at early dawn.” In fact, it was so early that it was still dark. And those women were “in the dark,” both literally and figuratively. They thought they were going out to a closed tomb with a dead body in it. All their hopes had been extinguished on Friday with the death of their beloved Master.
But now, suddenly, a great surprise! Light shining in the darkness! The two angels in dazzling apparel say to them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” This is the light of Christ, risen from the dead. The grave could not hold him. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The word “paschal” comes from the Greek word for “Easter,” which is “pascha.” And “pascha,” in turn, is a form of the Hebrew word, “pesach,” which means “Passover.” So to say that this is the “paschal” candle reminds us of what happened at the Passover. Remember, the Passover was when the plague of death struck the land of Egypt, but the homes of the Israelites were spared, because the blood of a sacrificed lamb, the Passover lamb, was on their doorposts. That was the sign for death to pass over those homes.
Now the ultimate Passover Lamb, of course, is Our Lord Jesus . By his holy blood, by his sacrificial death–at Passover time, no less–you and I are spared from eternal death. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is “the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us and bore the sins of the world. By his dying he has destroyed death, and by his rising again he has restored to us everlasting life.”
Where the Paschal Lamb offered up that perfect sacrifice is shown right here in the center of the candle. We see the cross, as plain as day. For without the cross, there is no Easter. The cross is the reason that Easter happens. It took the death of the Son of God to pay the price for the sins of mankind. The resurrection of Christ shows what he won for us by his crucifixion. So we see the cross as a most glorious sign on this Easter morning, and on this paschal candle.
We also see five nails that are driven into the paschal candle, these incense grains represent the five holy wounds of Jesus: his hands, his feet, and his side. These are the marks that Christ showed to his disciples upon his resurrection, so that they would know that it was really he and that his crucifixion was no defeat but instead the greatest victory. The holy wounds of Christ therefore are shown on the paschal candle. “By his wounds, we are healed.”
Now above and below the cross and the nails are two Greek letters, Alpha and Omega. This is a very ancient symbol for Christ. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last. So, Alpha and Omega–this is like saying, Christ covers everything for us, from A to Z, as we would put it. Christ Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. “Fear not,” our risen Lord reassures us, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” As Alpha and Omega, Christ lives and reigns to all eternity, and we will live with him, forever.
So, this amazing paschal candle powerful and symbolically teaches us the truth of Easter – for it all begins with the cross, the nails, the Alpha and Omega and it records the year 2020 – for the celebration of Easter is real for us now in this very time of our existence.
So what of the lessons from the paschal candle. Today, even in the midst of the darkness of isolation we have a Light from Jesus Christ, the light of the world. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says to us on this Easter Day. “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” When we do return to our church building, one of the first things we will do is light the Paschal Candle from a new fire. So until then, I say
May the light of Christ
In Glory rising again,
Dispel the darkness of
Heart and mind.