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.”
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.