Romans 6: 3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
You may or may not know this, and the number of people here tonight compared to the capacity crowds we will have tomorrow doesn’t reflect what I am about to tell you, but tonight, The Great Vigil of Easter, is the most important service in the Christian calendar year. It is important because it is the first Eucharist of Easter, but it is important for another ancient reason.
That reason is because Christianity is firmly rooted in Judaism – Jesus himself was Jewish. So this means that Jewish traditions are also in a way our traditions. One important tradition in the Jewish religion is Passover, which commemorates the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, a story we heard in one of our readings tonight. Specifically, Passover commemorates the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb a lamb whose blood was spread across the doors of Jewish homes in Egypt so that the angel of death would “pass over” those homes and not take the first born son.
What does Passover have to do with tonight? Many Christians see Christ’s death and resurrection as a Passover moment. In other words, Christians see in Jesus that lamb whose blood spared the Hebrews in Egypt just as the death of Jesus upon the cross and his resurrection spares our lives and allows us to be truly free.
This connection between Judaism and Christianity is especially evident during the Eucharist, when the priest takes the bread, the body of Christ, breaks it, and says the words “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”
The connection between what we call Easter and Passover is so strong that in every language besides English, the same word is used for the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter. The word is “pascha,” and it means Passover. It is from this word, pascha, that we get the word paschal, which is the name of this candle – we call it the Paschal Candle. It signifies to us the very light of Christ which leads us upon our journey as the pillar of fire led the Hebrew people in the wilderness.
This Paschal candle is a reminder to us of Christ’s own Passover from death into life, which we celebrate at this first Easter service. The Paschal Candle is lit during all services in the Easter season and also at all baptisms and funerals. This year we made a change with our Paschal Candle. In years past we have used an oil candle, like the ones upon the altar, because they don’t melt and spill wax on the floor and create a nightmare for the altar guild.
But this year we have wax Paschal candle, which is more fragile than an oil candle because it will age, and over the next year as it melts, it will look different. Hopefully, it won’t spill wax onto the floor! The work of this candle is to burn in the service of God. It will be with us all year, until the next Easter Vigil service, when we light a new Paschal Candle. The candle is a special candle for us, a reminder of the Paschal mystery – which is Christ’s death, descent among the dead, and his resurrection to everlasting life.
The Paschal Candle reminds us of the power of Christ’s eternal light which shines in this church now, and more importantly, shines in our hearts. We began our service in darkness, and now in the midst of the first Easter, we are awash in brilliant paschal light. Let your light so shine before all women and men that they may see your good works which glorify God in heaven. AMEN.