Although our Gospel today gives us the wonderful parable of The Vine and the Branches, I want to leave that aside, because I believe that the Paschal Candle deserves some attention. We cannot just ignore it as it presides over our altars from Easter to the Feast of the Ascension.
The Paschal Candle embodies two great images. First, it symbolizes the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites in their desert years, before leading them into the Promised Land. Jesus identified himself with it in the December before his crucifixion.
In Our Lord’s time for the evenings of one week in December all Jerusalem used to gather in the Court of the Gentiles. They did it to recall the events of their ancestors’ forty years in the desert. Towering over the crowd those evenings they had a great lamp that stood for the ancient pillar of fire that led them to the Promised land. On the last day of the week, when they extinguished the lamp for another year, Jesus astounded the crowd by calling out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness!”
Just as the original pillar of fire led the people to the promised land, so Jesus, as symbolized by the Paschal candle, leads us to the promised land of heaven.
Now, why do we call our Easter candle the Paschal Candle? Let’s try to straighten that out. Well, first, the word Pasch is Greek for Passover. So, this is the Passover Candle.
It might seem obvious, but I think it is worthwhile asking what we mean by the Passover. I grew up thinking the Passover was the name of the meal the Israelites ate in Egypt the night before they left Egypt
But that meal together with the departure the followed on it is only a third of what the Bible and the Church mean by the word Passover. Its three parts are: first the passing over from slavery to the road to the Promised Land; second, the passing over a forty-year life span in the desert; and thirdly a passing over the Jordan into the Promised land.
That is the Paschal history, but what about the Paschal Mystery?
The Paschal Mystery is being led from sin by Jesus (often in our baptisms;) secondly, it is passing over our desert years with his help; and thirdly it is following him through death to the promised land.
When we look at the Paschal Candle we are looking at Jesus whose own death showed us the way through death.