Candle-light: An Enduring Symbol for Prayer

“Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.”

(Psalm 141:2)

In the middle ages, places of worship depended on candlelight so that worshippers could see what was going on around the altar, reading desk and font.

Of course today lighted candles in worship spaces fulfill a more symbolic rather than functional role. Thanks to electrical power we don’t need the candle to ‘shed light’ in a literal, but more a symbolic sense.

Symbols are important in our worship practice not as the goal or ultimate meaning of worship (i.e. we don’t worship the candle) but as an aid to help focus our often distracted minds on what is truly important in what we do and are in the church.

The vision statement for Zion Lutheran Church, “Celebrating God As We Serve Others”, presumes that the church’s central activity is worshipping God. While the other groups, ministries, committees and services in which the church engages are all important, fundamentally our job is to worship God and serve others in a worshipful and prayerful way. That’s how we celebrate … in worshipful service.

To be prayerful or worshipful in our service suggests that in our action we are mindful and aware of God’s presence with us and those whom we serve. In whatever circumstance of life in which we find ourselves we acknowledge – and if possible observe moments of silence and prayer – the presence of the Holy Spirit in and around us.

Light a candle during the Advent & Christmas seasons. Observe the single flame. Reflect on the flame and its invisible emanations as symbol of our prayers rising to the heavens in the Spirit of God. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity said that their fingers entwined in prayer became fingers of fire and flame; hence the meaningful tradition of placing lighted candles on the altar during worship and prayer services.

May our prayers rise to God and spread outward to include others in the warmth of God’s love. In our lives the light of Christ shines outward, reaching into the dark world. Even in the darkness of our own lives shines the light of Christ, reflected in and through us.

Thanks be to God, for this candlelight can never be snuffed out.

(Work consulted: Anselm Gruen, “Weihnachten – Einen Neuen Anfang Feiern” Herder, 2001, p.45-47)

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