In a darkened cathedral and before the flames of a warming fire, the Bishop holds a taper trying to light the candle held by the Deacon. All eyes gaze on this seemingly simple task and, time seems to stand still, as the candles seems to refuse to light. There is a shared sense of relief as the Deacon turns to the people and all can see the candle is lit.
But the flame is small and gutters in the draught. All eyes are now fixed on this tiny, frail flickering flame. Unprotected it is held aloft and carried forward, the flame rising and falling back, bending to each new movement of the air. As it is carried the length of the cathedral it seems smaller and frailer; its flame making little impression on the surrounding darkness and yet unmissable and still drawing the eye. It continues to dance and tease, refusing to confidently burn and yet never extinguishing itself.
Amidst the thunder of the organ, the soaring notes of the Gloria and the shouts of the people, it is this uncertain flame that stands above all else for the hope of Easter. Despite the confident and enthusiastic liturgical greetings, “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is rise indeed. Alleluia!”, this faltering flame better captures the day more than all the processions and clouds of incense.
To dare to proclaim that he who was clearly killed on the tree and his lifeless body buried and seal in a stone cold tomb is alive is either the most foolish act of wish-fulfilling folly or a truth so profound, so mysterious, that not all the words I have, nor all the days I will live, will help me fully comprehend all that this means. If true, this must change my everything; nothing can ever be the same again and yet how can my life begin to reflect and be shaped by this most unexpected of twists in salvation history?
The Alleluias fall silent on my lips and my eyes return to gaze of this frail, flickering light and as it struggles against the darkness. So too my mind struggles to let its rays penetrate my inner darkness. As the liturgy rises to its crescendo, my soul becomes still. No words, no music, can capture the true mystery of this day – only this small dancing, guttering light can point the way.
Bells ring out, congregations are in full voice and preachers proclaim strong messages of hope but still I gaze at this small insignificant yet profound flame. And my mind is drawn out of the cathedral to two small animals on their riverbank:
‘Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking. ‘Are you afraid?’ ‘Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. ‘Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet – and yet – O, Mole, I am afraid!’ Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.