The great vigil of Easter is a magnificent liturgy. It begins with the kindling of a new fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle. For those who have made the journey through all of Holy Week, it is a dramatic moment when the deacon lifts the candle and sings “The Light of Christ” and we respond, “Thanks be to God.” Then the deacon says, “This is the night that Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” (p. 324, Book of Alternative Services)
The candle is carried to a prominent place of honour in the church, either beside the lectern or before the altar. Where space allows, it may stand in the middle of the assembly. At every gathering of the people of God throughout the seven weeks of Easter, the Paschal candle burns as a sign of the presence of the Risen Lord among his disciples during those 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, and of his presence among us today.
Outside of Easter, the Paschal candle assumes a place of honour by the font. From it candles are lit and given to the newly baptized, a sign that in Christ we have passed from darkness to light and been raised to the new life of grace.
The Paschal candle is also lit at the funeral liturgy reminding us of St. Paul’s teaching that in baptism we are buried with Christ into death and “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
Thus from the day of our baptism to the day of our burial this great candle is a sign of our life in Christ, and of our calling as an Easter people.
In the Anglicans in Mission campaign in the early 1980s, we used prayers and messages about mission from partner churches. I shall never forget the message from the Church in Korea. It read, “The church should light the sacred candle of the resurrection, not merely through its preaching within its walls, but also through actions outside the walls of the church. We should dedicate ourselves to the task of reviving conscience and justice which will bless us with a brighter, more just society.” That was wise counsel then and now.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.Back to Top
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