"Rejoice now!" in the light of Christ

A stone-struck flint flings forth a spark in a flash, igniting gnarled bits of twigs, which in turn gradually kindle dry wood into flame. Burning slowly, the dead wood is transformed into energy. Rising upward, gathering strength, the fire begins to dispel the pre-dawn darkness of the early spring night and to illumine the faces of the faithful who await the light. The white-and-gold vested Presider prays, “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.”

The towering pillar of wax is incised with the sign of the cross “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end…” and marked with symbols of God’s eternal now “…the Alpha, and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power, through every age for ever.”  Grains of incense in red waxen nails, signs of God’s sacrifice, are inserted at the cross’ five points. “By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ the Lord guard us and keep us.”

Last year’s Paschal candle, marked with Alpha
and Omega, and pierced with grains of incense
in red waxen nails, signs of God’s sacrifice.

Lighting the great candle from the newly kindled fire, the Presider prays, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The Deacon takes up the Paschal Candle and carrying it before the assembly, leads them from the garden into the still-darkened church. Stopping at three points and lifting high the great light, the Deacon intones, each time at a higher pitch: “The light of Christ.” At each station, the people respond, “Thanks be to God” and, as they enter the narthex, light their handheld candles. The waxen pillar of fire, placed in its stand at the center of the choir and censed with sweet-smelling smoke by the Deacon, becomes a glowing pillar of cloud as well.

And now the Deacon sings the Exsultet, the Easter proclamation of good news. Bathed in the light of Christ’s resurrection, those gathered in the candles’ radiance are invited to “Rejoice now” with the whole company of heaven, every creature on earth, and Mother Church in all places and times – at the victory over the powers of darkness won through the King who humbled himself unto death.

All are then bidden, “Lift up your hearts.” Christ is praised as the Paschal Lamb who by his blood delivers people, as the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt. The Paschal feast and sacrifice are likened to the Exodus: As the children of Israel were brought out of bondage through the Red Sea, so all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin and death and given new life through the waters of baptism. The poetic paradox that the “happy fault” of our first parents’ disobedience should bring to us “so great a Redeemer” recalls the words of Paul: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). And so the lighted candle, “the work of the bees your creatures,” is offered, set apart, and blessed as a sacramental sign for us of Christ the Morning-Star and Sun of Righteousness which never sets.

The Exsultet, our Easter hymn of ecstatic gratitude, like the Great Thanksgiving of the Eucharist, proclaims at once what God has done for and is doing in us. By our Paschal celebration, God’s wondrous creation of the universe, the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation, baptism, and preaching of the kingdom, his passion and death, resurrection and ascension, and the abiding gift of the Spirit’s power are all made sacramentally and really present as kairos, the eternal now, breaks into chronos, this old world’s passing away.

So we make anamnesis, remembrance, renewing the promises and vows of Holy Baptism and feeding anew on the Body and Blood of the Risen One. The Exsultet becomes the joyful angel calling us from the tomb, proclaiming our share in Christ’s glorious resurrection, and singing of the light kindled in us, which shall never be extinguished.

“Behold the Light of Christ.”

 

6 Comments

  1. Lisa Noll on April 4, 2021 at 09:11

    My most vivid memory of Easter comes from about 1975. I was just out of college and living in my first apartment on Maple Avenue in Cambridge. On Easter Eve I had shared a huge pot of mInestrone soup (great recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure) with a small group of friends. Afterwards we took the MTA to a Vigil at St. John the Evangelist on Beacon Hill. One of the friends was Sam Dimon who was at that time was spending a good bit of time at the monastery on Memorial Draft be and would sometimes take us there with him to a service or a meal.

    What I remember is the moment, after what felt like a very long time of listening to long passages being read in the dark, and after the flame and candles had brought their lovely light into the building, when, with a click, the electric lights blazed also. A little shocking (and a little sad) to be plunged into the full light of our more ordinary reality. But then the Celebrant (who seemed quite old to me at that time), magnificent in gold and white but also warm and friendly, came down into the center aisle. He greeted us and told us that each year his Easter joy becomes greater. I was impressed by that and always remember him in this season.

  2. Kitty Whitman on April 4, 2021 at 05:25

    This happy day when the morning is breaking, surrounded by my family of blood, faith, and the communion of saints and martyrs, I believe we are the Hallelujah song for Jesus. You have taught my heart new understandings of our liturgical symbols in this morning’s reading. Thank you. God bless you and keep you.
    Kitty W.

  3. Margaret Dungan on May 4, 2016 at 17:27

    Thank you so much for this.
    I have never had it so beautifully expressed before.

    Margaret.

  4. Ian Skoggard on May 4, 2016 at 11:29

    A lovely invocation/evocation of the Christian spirit. It reminds us of the importance of ritual.

  5. Charlotte Weaver-Gelzer on May 4, 2016 at 07:07

    A wonderful “instructed liturgy” of the start of the Great Vigil and at the same time, the end of the Easter Season.
    And yet I wonder about Kairos breaking into ordinary days of ordinary Christians, whose celebration of “the Light of Christ” is not so much a call and response as it is a waking moment sustained by the light of day that, quite naturally turns to night.
    I suppose that all could be dealt with rather efficiently by saying, “come to daily Eucharist ” or some similar direction to attend worship in a church sanctuary, for anamnesis. That’s not Kairos, though–that’s a complicating chronos problem for everyone who doesn’t live within 10 blocks of a sanctuary.
    So. Is Kairos limited to the bounded walls of the church, and if not (and I think not ), how is Kairos an exultation and recognized experience of the Resurrection in the lives of Ordinary Christians?
    Perhaps to answer that truly, you in Orders would need to ask those in Ordinary life to tell you. It’s not quite like scientists investigating a species separate from themselves, but the difference of Christian experience are stark and, as far as those of Ordinary Christians are recorded, exist not in their own words, but always in the Professional Christian language.

    I don’t doubt kairos moments, I don’t doubt Kairos, but like most Ordinary Christians, I don’t experience kairos in celebration and liturgy. Instead, Kairos comes hidden in darkness and leaves me there, imperceptibly changed. Language is both too much and not enough to express the Presence.
    That is why the daily, weekly liturgy and the Great Vigil matter–because in its song I can speak the Word as one does in rehearsal, readying myself for living the Word in ordinary light of day and night, where the holy becomes health for those in the world.
    Thank you for this prompt of yours, to morning understanding of mine.

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