Lighting the Candle
He was acolyting last Sunday with H, who is a girl in our church, very close to J's age. In our church, the pair of acolytes process down the main aisle to the front of the church. Each of them lights one candle -- one on each end of the altar, and then turns to take a seat in the front pew.
Last Sunday all was going well until J tried to light his candle. No luck. He tried and tried, until finally, his taper went out. H relit it for him, and he tried to light his candle again. And again. No luck. Finally H joined him on his side of the altar, and together, they held their lit tapers against the wick. It finally caught the flame. Much to the relief of his parents.
It was a simple, simple event, that I am about to turn into an example of what it means to be a church.
- J and H were acolyting. They were, symbolically, carrying the light of Christ into the room. It's what we do; we bring the light of Christ into the room, so that everyone can "see" it.
- J's candle wouldn't light. How often does that happen to us? Being a church -- being the body of Christ, is not without its challenges. Life as a body will never be simple or easy, and we need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected and with disappointments.
- J reached over to H so that she could relight his taper. That's another reason we exist. When the light someone is carrying gets a little dim -- or blows out -- we share the light again. Our own light is never dimmed when we share it. The room only gets brighter.
- When our own light gets dim, we need to know that asking for help is OK -- it's why God has given us this church. Sometimes we get so stubborn that we ignore that help is only 3 feet away -- never farther than our need of it will reach.
- H decided at some point that enough was enough, and she helped J light his candle. I don't know if H made the decision on her own, or if J asked for help, but it doesn't matter. We respond in either situation. Sometimes we hear the request for help; sometimes God pushes us to help even when no request is made.
- When the candle finally lit, both acolytes were holding their tapers against the wick. Who lit the candle? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter in the slightest. The candle was lit and light was brought into the room.
- In fact, I like the idea that they lit it together. As a church we are stronger when we work as a "team." We aren't only as strong as the two of us together; grace creates synergy, and we are stronger than the sum of our parts.
- And then there were the worried parents, Steve and I, sitting in the pew. What to do? Jump up and light the stupid candle? Wait? I'm really glad we waited (although I don't think Steve would have waited much longer.) Part of what church is for is so that the younger of us can step out in faith on their own. Church is a safe place to grow a faith, and it's a good place for parents to let go and let their children learn how to fly.
- Who were the teachers in that moment? Children. We should never forget that God works through everyone, and that there is no magic age at which we become (or cease to be) a minister of God's word.
- To J and H it was only a frustrating candle that wouldn't light. To me it became a metaphor for the church. We never know if someone is watching what we say or do, and learning about God. We are often not aware that we are creating witnesses.
Images: I never see a sunrise on the way to work -- I almost always drive west on the interstate. This morning, I drove east, so that I could make a stop on Route 60. It's amazing how changing direction can change one's view -- a beautiful sunrise. After I headed west again, while I couldn't see the sunrise, I could see the effect of the light on the mountains. Beautiful morning.