On Easter Eve, the first fire of Easter plays a prominent role on Saturday night.
At the side of the church itself, in the space between the east and the west entrances to the church, there is a protected space where we light the fire in a portable hibachi.
Our practice is for people to gather outside for the lighting of the taper from the “first fire” that will light the Paschal Candle to lead us into the First Eucharist of Easter. It has always been a source of pride for our lighting to coincide with the exact moment of sunset.
On this particular Easter Eve, our priest lit the charcoal in the hibachi and waited for hot coals to form. Shortly after, he added some larger twigs to become the base of the fire. With a fire bucket nearby, a group of early arrivals were asked to keep it company and to hand out tapers and service outlines.
It was rather windy and cold, and the wood easily caught fire. In fact, it didn’t take long to see sparks tickling the space directly above.
As more people arrived, increasingly strong winds made people tighten their caps or adjust their scarves. Coats blew open and a few people started to go into the church itself, choosing to wait there for the lighting.
“I’m going inside,” cried a loud voice, tired of gusting winds. “You can get your taper and service outline there.”
With that signal, people started to move inside and gradually everyone abandoned the fire.
Just then, a parishioner rounded the corner. Seeing a line of people entering the west door of the church, she set off to join it, but hesitated when she noticed an unattended fire by itself. Seeing no one around, she spotted the fire bucket and doused the flames.
Suddenly, the east door of the church opened, and the crucifer, priest and acolytes processed to the exact spot of the smoking heap of charcoal and half burnt twigs.
With a loud gasp, the four of them froze.
A moment of silence followed and then soft chuckles.
A quick-thinking acolyte pulled out a lighter and passed it to the priest. The procession continued toward the west door of the church to join the rest of the congregation.
As predicted, at the exact moment of sunset, the priest lit the Paschal candle.
Easter had arrived, in spite of fastidious fire prevention practices!
Susan explained, “This is a true story based on a real event at the Rock on Locke (St. John the Evangelist Hamilton) a few years ago. It was our former leader of our Youth Group who took on the role of Smokey the Bear.”