The Easter Fire

In a predawn darkness that seems impenetrable, the faithful gather.  Its been only days, but seems like a lifetime, since we joined our voices with the crowds and have asked for Barabbas to be set free, and the preacher from Nazareth to hang on a cross.  What hope could there be for us, for our world?  The darkness is overwhelming and pervasive.

 Then, a tiny spark jumps in the darkness and a flame catches.  As it casts a light that is much brighter than its size, for the first time we hear the words, “Light of Christ!   Thanks be to God!”   As the flame is passed and the light grows, so too does the acclamation, “Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!” and we realize that the darkness is vanquished.

For many centuries, the primary sign of the Resurrection, the central symbol of Easter was the Easter Fire.  It was a bonfire lit in the tomblike cold darkness of the night, the re-kindling of the Christ candle from the Nativity, dark since the beginning of Lent.  Before lilies, eggs, and butterflies, the faithful gathered around the Fire and heard for the first time the proclamation, “Christ is Risen!”  The Fire was the Light of Christ come into the world, which the darkness cannot overcome.  The first Service of the Resurrection, generally held in the darkness of Saturday night, called the Easter Vigil, was and still is, for countless Christians, a service of lighting the Fire.

This service is one we rarely connect with camping ministry.  Partly because of the time of year, I suppose.  Most of us do not run camping programs on the weekend of Easter, leaving that time to congregational gatherings.  But the central symbol is ours to claim.  There is no more common symbol of camping ministry than the campfire.  Few of us have realized, however, that the campfires around which we gather and sing are the Easter Fire, the Light of Christ which the darkness has not overcome.  More than a sentimental, nostalgic pyre upon which to toast marshmallows, our campfires, large and small, are the Easter Fire.

This year, Garrie and I will participate in the Easter prayer vigil at our church.  We have the last shift on Saturday night, 10 pm to midnight.  We will light the Easter fire – have a “campfire” in our back yard to join with the generations of Christians who have felt the warmth and seen the glow of the fire and understood again that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.  We will light a candle from that fire and carry it to worship on Sunday morning to place on the Lord’s Table.  As we gather around that fire, though, we will give thanks for the many campfires that each of you will light this summer – to proclaim again that Jesus is the Light that no darkness can extinguish.  Children, youth, adults, families, all need to be invited to warm themselves by that fire.

As you “put the final touches” on your programs for this summer, we invite you to see your campfires with new eyes and understand them with new hearts – not just the place for skits and songs and marshmallows, but the very proclamation of the Light of the World.

The following is part of the traditional prayer that is offered when the Easter Fire is lighted in worship – you may wish to use parts of it as you light fires this summer.

 

Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

 Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night!

 May the morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on us all, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

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