The Easter Fire

Standard

I didn’t know what to expect at my first Easter fire. It was nine years ago, and I still remember it as if it was this morning. I had decided on Tuesday of Holy Week to attend my first mass (thank you Tim for suggesting it), and then my second mass on Wednesday. I thought I was just getting into the groove of daily mass when I turned up on Thursday to what was a prayer service and not a mass. Holy Thursday Mass was at night. The same occurred Friday and Saturday mornings.

But Saturday morning was different. When I arrived there were already several people outside preparing the firewood, the kindling and the tall stone brazier for the lighting of the Easter fire. I didn’t know at the time that the fire is lit in the morning after the prayer service and tended to for the rest of the day by parishioners. This is done regardless to weather and I’ve seen some years in the rain, in the cold, in the wind; sometimes all three simultaneously.

At sundown, after burning all day, the fire is used to light the Paschal candle (this candle represents the light of Christ coming into the world), which is then carried into the church and is used to light all of the individual handheld tapered candles inside the church for the Easter Vigil. As an aside, the entire church is in darkness and as the candles are lit and the people in the pews are illuminated, it is a magnificent visual as well as spiritual to have the darkness overcome in the manifestation of the engulfing light, filling the entire church with the warm glow of hundreds of candles and the quiet singing (three times during the procession) of the light of Christ with the congregation responding, thanks be to G-d. After that, the Exsultet (the Easter Proclamation) is read or rather chanted.

Before any of that happens though, hours before, the priest lights the Easter fire in the presence of parishioners.

I was a few people back from the stone container that first year. I couldn’t see very well. I was wrapped up in a large scarf, trying to brace myself against the wind. It wasn’t strong enough to push anyone over, but it was just enough to be annoying to the priest and his assistants who were attempting to light the fire. It was also very, very cold. I still wasn’t sure if I belonged here.

I knew the moment the fire was lit. I felt something touch me inside. I couldn’t see it, and it was a split second or more before the exclamation of the crowd in the front let the rest of us all know it was lit. I heard the flint and stone, that sharp scraping that has to be done in just such a way to spark, and it took more than once or twice.

When the spark caught the paper and dry sticks I heard a whoosh sound, but it hadn’t come from the fire, and I felt that whoosh inside me. I was startled by it, I was chilled, and not by the cold. Something in me had changed or pulled me one metaphorical step forward. It wasn’t this moment that drew me to conversion, but this moment stands out as one of those unexplainable, miraculous openings to a wellspring of new emotions. Tears came involuntarily to my eyes.

It was deeply moving and as everyone moved back inside to the gathering space sharing coffee, bagels, and donuts, I was lost in my thoughts wondering what I had witnessed, what I was feeling emotionally, savoring the continuing shiver in my soul.

15/52 – Chosen

Standard

​Lent is over. The Easter fire is lit. In just about seven or so hours, it will be blessed, we will light our candles and illuminate the church. And so begins the Easter Vigil; practically the same way across the world in their own time zones. It begins so late because we wait until dark.

Every year from Ash Wednesday until tonight, I am asked if it brings back memories of my own first Easter Vigil. I never know what to say. Of course, it does, in many ways, but in others it fosters new memories that blend with the old ones. It is also hard to explain that my Easter Vigil is often somehow with me more often than not. Every time, I cross myself at the holy water font. Every time, I receive the Eucharist, I think back to that very first one. Each one feels like the first time, and each subsequent one is a crumb on the path I have chosen.

For many, Christ is chosen for them, through their families and traditions, through their spouses or wanting to give something to our children to connect them to “their people”, but as we get older and understand more and hear more, and even listen more, we make choices along the way, every step of the path we follow. Turn left? Or right? Confirmation? Or not? Weekly communion? Or is that first one enough? Is it all that I need?

I didn’t know what was being offered when I chose Christ. I had only intended to choose a ritual, a place of being that make me feel…something; feel better about my life. In staying, I chose a new path, a dim path until one day, just like that, it was lit, brighter than the sun, all encompassing, my eyes rising to meet the glow. Despite the glow of suns and brightness unimaginable, my eyes stayed. I didn’t hear words or sounds, but my heart heard the words. Not words, but something translated, engraved on my soul, that while giving me many choices really gave me none.

Once it was there, it can not be taken away. My only choice is to accept what I’ve been gifted and continue my direction, my directing, my learning, my new way.

Every day that I have not been on retreat, I have attended the daily mass during Lent. For the past two weeks, I have remained in the church to recite the rosary. Those two commitments have given me a steadiness to carry me through this time in the desert.

Easter begins and Passover is ending, and they both celebrate the release from bondage, the exiting from the desert, the wilderness, our yearly exodus.

(c)2017