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candlelight services

Ok, ok, so first things first, these are not my favorite worship services ever invented. But I was in Anderson yesterday evening to sing with the seminary chorus at the beginning of the final North American Convention (Not A Campmeeting) service of the year. So I figured I might as well stick around for the whole service, especially since I had a great seat.

The service was remarkable for a number of reasons: (1) The worship music, led by a team of people older than me, seemed to be directed toward a crowd younger than me, and most of it was unfamiliar to me. Huh. (2) The sermon, which I will discuss in a future post, was simultaneously very frustrating and very satisfying for me. Rather, I should say that two-thirds of it were frustrating, but the last third was surprisingly strong. And yet it seemed that most of the people there did not appreciate the strong part. Maybe that’s why it was strong. More on that later. (3) The candlelight service.

All right, so it was really just a normal, convention-ending candlelight service. It seemed like all the others I’ve ever attended. (By the way, read this satirical article.) But I was struck with a new take on the symbolism of the service, one which I’ve never heard taught or explained before. I’m filing this under the category of “If I have to do a candlelight service, I’ll do it this way”:

The flame represents holiness. Fire destroys its fuel, and it eliminates the impurities from metals like gold. Fire has a certain cleansing property, but it cleanses in a relatively painful way – by tearing down the object to be purified. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cleanses and purifies those who follow Jesus Christ by eliminating impurities and by establishing a new way of life. The old self is burned up (painfully, at times) and is replaced by something pure and holy.

The flame also represents unity – in the same way that the bread of the Lord’s Supper represents unity. Ideally, the Lord’s Supper utilizes one loaf of bread from which each person takes a piece. In this manner, each person expresses his or her identity in Jesus Christ (which the one loaf represents) and his or her unity with the other believers (who also share in the one loaf). Similarly, a candlelight service can begin with one candle, representative of Jesus Christ. Each person then shares in the life and light of that one candle… you see where this is going.

This second expression can quickly become cheesy or trite (from a certain perspective) unless the first concept is kept firmly in mind. The unity we experience is not fuzzy-wuzzy, feel-good stuff (see future discussion of sermon). Instead, the unity we experience is grounded in the purifying, consuming holiness we receive from the Holy Spirit, which is based on the purifying work of Jesus Christ (which consumed him entirely).

Holiness and unity. Get it?

Many early Christian martyrs were burned at the stake. I wonder… how would a candlelight service have been interpreted and understood by their fellow disciples?

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