Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. [Exodus 27:20 (NLT)]
Although an acolyte usually lights the altar candles at our northern church, our pastor did it yesterday. He came out of the sacristy with an unlit brass candle lighter in his hand, reached up to the sanctuary lamp, removed its red glass globe and took it out of the holder. Using the sanctuary candle, he lit the candle lighter before using it to light the altar candles. After returning the sanctuary lamp to its rightful place on the wall, he explained that, although there had been several books of matches in the sacristy, they all were empty. No one seems to smoke anymore and, being new to our parish, he had no idea where matches might be stored. A resourceful man, he solved the problem perfectly.
Sanctuary lamps probably date back to the original rules Moses was given for the tabernacle and they are often found in Jewish temples. Also called the Christ candle or eternal flame in Christian churches, they burn continually as a reminder of the eternal presence of God. While a sanctuary lamp often is present in traditional or liturgical churches, it certainly isn’t necessary for worship. Our mountain church, for example, doesn’t have one and our Florida church, which meets in the park, doesn’t even have a sanctuary let alone an altar or candles!
What, I wondered, would have happened if, while fiddling with the sanctuary light, our pastor had inadvertently extinguished its flame? Although he would have been embarrassed, worship would have continued without that symbol of God’s lasting presence. Candle or not, God is eternally present and the light of Christ continues to shine in our dark and troubled world. The flame from that one candle lit the altar candles much as the light from Christ lights our lives. God’s flame, however, must not stop with us. Jesus is the light of the world and it’s not enough for us just to shine; like that brass candle lighter, we must pass that light along to those waiting in darkness.
It only takes a spark To get a fire going,
And soon all those around Can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love Once you’ve experienced it;
You spread His love to ev’ryone. You want to pass it on.
I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found.
You can depend on Him. It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top. I want my world to know:
The Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.
[“Pass it On” by Kurt Kaiser]