Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter Vigil, Saturday night, Shaftesbury

One of the distinguishing features of tonight’s liturgy is the Easter Candle.
Last year, I spoke about the symbolism of light in the midst of darkness.
This year, I want to speak about an equally important part of the symbolism, but one that happens so briefly that it is easily missed: The grains of incense inserted into the candle .

Outside, as the Paschal Candle was lit from the Easter Fire, fire grains of incense were inserted into five hole in the candle, five holes for the five wounds in Our Lord’s body (His two hands, His two feet, and His side), and these holes are arranged in the shape of a cross. All year long these five grains for the five wounds remains there, encased in gold metal studs, connecting the symbolism of the wounds to the symbolism of the candle. But most of us probably give little thought to their significance.

The symbolism starts with incense: that thing which is offered up to God, as fragrant smoke rising to Heaven. There is grain of incense for each wound to remind us that the wounds were not random events but sacrifices freely embraced to be offered on our behalf.
And the wounds are connected to candle to remind us that just as light triumphed over darkness, He triumphed over the wounds that killed Him.

But the particular point to note is that it is the WOUNDS that are highlighted.
Wounds are not normally seen as a good thing,
normally, wounds and sickness are something we keep private, even hide,
often, wounds are a thing of embarrassment.
But, what was it that Jesus proudly showed Thomas and the other Apostles after His Resurrection? His wounds.
It was as if He was saying: “This is what I have overcome”,
“This is what I am more powerful than”
Even, “This is what I have done FOR YOU, for love of you”

The light of the Easter Candle, better called the ‘Paschal’ Candle, because that name refers to the WHOLE event of his death and resurrection,
The light of that candle is not just a small light in darkness, but was we symbolism in the spreading of the light to many other lights filling the church, that light overcomes darkness.
Just as, the Victim, adorned with the sign of the 5 things He has been victorious over is signified on the side of the candle.
The wounds are no longer a thing of defeat and darkness, but a thing of light and victory.

Finally, I want to repeat the words that are said as the grains of incense are inserted: “By His holy, and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord, guard us, and keep us. Amen.”
The wounds are called “holy” and “glorious” because of His triumph.
But they are also called things to “guard” and “keep” us. If you recall the hymn Soul of my Saviour, we sing the words, “Deep in Thy wounds Lord, hide and shelter me”.
We shelter in things that are secure and strong. Normal wounds are not this at all, they are a sign of weakness.
The wounds of Jesus, however, are strong, are the things He proudly points to after His Resurrection, are the things that in visions He points out to saints, such as in the Sacred Heart apparitions –they are strong because of His victory.
So that, in our weakness, in our own wounds, we can hide in His wounds, and draw His strength. A strength whose victory is proclaimed in the shape of a cross of five wounds on the side of this candle.

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