His resurrection is an eruption of light. He is the true light, much more than a light bulb or a flame.
Across the Western Christian world, millions gathered last night to celebrate the highpoint of the Christian year, the Easter Vigil. These vigils began with the blessing of a fire outside cathedrals, churches and chapels, fires that were kindled perhaps by local scouting groups, as was ours outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow. In Paris, Archbishop Michel Aupetit blessed a fire outside the Church of Saint Suplice. From that fire he lit a flame that he carried into the darkened church.
This same action was repeated in every church. As I reflect on this first action of the Vigil, I can’t help but think back to last Monday night and the vivid, heart-breaking images we witnessed of Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames. I think, in particular, of the heroism of the firefighters who fought to save this precious place of worship. I think of the firefighters’ chaplain who retrieved the priceless relic, the crown of thorns, as he instinctively recognised the loss it would be, to not only the millions who come to see it each year but the local worshipping community.
As that flame is carried into the darkened church, the celebrant sings ‘Lumen Christi’. That most comforting message for the assembled congregation announces Christ as the Light that extinguishes the darkness of our world, the darkness of pain, isolation, abuse, anger and hurt. This lit Easter candle stands as a constant proclamation of the enduring presence of Christ among us. ‘Christ yesterday and today; the Beginning and the End; 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. Amen.’
My late father always said: “You can stand the cold, but you can’t stand the heat.” Some of you may be familiar with the heavy odour left in the wake of a fire. And yet when a home burns we know that it is not just about the building, the blocks and mortar but more importantly the people, memories and possessions. It takes a long time for the stench of a fire to leave a building. And it’s not just the flames; often more damage can be done by the water used to dampen or smoulder the fire. Fire and water, both integral parts of last night’s Easter Vigil.
The much commented upon photograph showing the debris strewn across the sanctuary at Notre Dame with the Cross emerging out of a splendid Pieta motif said it all for me these past few days. No different than the wonderful young French people who sang hymns and recited prayers as they stood aghast at their beloved Cathedral in flames last Monday evening. It was the evening of our own Chrism Mass in Kildare & Leighlin. While we celebrated, blessed, consecrated and renewed, others fought flames heroically and were choked in tears. This is life. And in the midst of this very life, with its many painful contradictions, this Easter Sunday we declare He has Risen.
His resurrection is an eruption of light. He is the true light, much more than a light bulb or a flame. He causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old, in the midst of chaos. This is why I love the Easter Vigil readings, read in darkness with only the light of the Easter Candle and the light generated by our own small candles. It’s only when we move into the New Testament readings does the church aglow with light.This light enables us to enter the tomb this Easter day and find, as the disciples did, linen cloths on the ground but no Jesus. He had already risen. The beloved disciple saw the scene and believed. Unlike others he didn’t need to see Jesus.
The flame carried into each church last night was fragile. In its earliest moments it needed to be minded and shielded. But it grew in strength and became a great flame which every person in the church drew upon to light their own candle. Drawing on this light is a choice and it can sometimes be a struggle, even counter-cultural. The Easter fire and the Easter flame offer us an opportunity to walk towards Christ or walk away.
Rebuilding Notre Dame, like St. Mel’s a few years ago, after its horrific fire on Christmas Day 2009, is a project or a programme of works. Notre Dame is a Cathedral, a sacred space for worship and prayer but also a cultural icon for a people, a nation. Rebuilding the Cathedral is only part of the project. In 2019 rebuilding our Church, our people, our faith, is a much deeper project. This Lent we in Kildare and Leighlin reflected on the Mass in our parishes, what we celebrate, what the different rites of the Mass express, what we are sent to do as we leave our church on a Sunday morning. We called it ‘Digging Deeper’.
Digging Deeper allows us to stand at the tomb this Easter day with eyes and hearts of faith. Our journey began with ashes on Ash Wednesday and ends with the Easter fire this day. As we held our candles and renewed our baptismal promises last night, we once more said yes to the Light who is Christ. As Christians we are called to bring Christ to the world in the daily actions of our lives. This may at times be against the trend, but it is who we are, an Easter people called to live in the light of Resurrection. May you meet the Risen One this Easter.