In liturgical worship particular symbolism is very important. Symbols such as candles have a definite use and purpose in our worship of God. In many churches symbolic communication has been lost or neglected. The few symbols that remain have become unintelligible and meaningless.
Commenting on the significance of symbolism Dr. Robert Webber writes, “…when we consider the function of symbols as a means of understanding and communicating the Christian faith, we must not treat them as merely psychological creations but as images of an ultimate reality. A symbol in the natural world corresponds to a reality of the supernatural world.” (God Still Speaks, p. 144) The objects we call symbols are not in the building just to make it look pretty. Dr. Webber goes on to speak of the necessity of symbolic communication. “The nature of faith itself demands the transformation of supernatural concepts into visible images and symbols. Because no finite language can fully and completely express supernatural truth adequately, biblical religion and the church in history has always relied on symbolism as a means of communicating that which transcends the realm of the finite. The language of faith has always, therefore, been a language of symbols.”
In our faith, lights – whether lamps or candles – are a common symbol. Christian worship has its roots in Judaism. In the book of Exodus God gave specific instructions about the construction of the tabernacle. Among the items God said should be in the tabernacle was the Golden Candlestick with its seven prongs. This impressive lamp was to be always burning in the place of worship. Even today the observance of the Sabbath begins with the lighting of candles in a Jewish home.
Likewise, the lighting of candles precedes services in many Christian churches. In Christian worship candles always in some way point to Christ. It is not the candles that are important, but what they represent. This will vary to a certain extent depending on the season of the Church Year.
Jesus came to reveal God to the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have this light of life.” Christ’s light points us to God who is the source of all good.
As we travel through this present existence the light of God encourages us to persevere in the faith. The expression, “A light at the end of the tunnel,” is a common metaphor for hope. This world is a dark place, but we move toward the light ahead. In the last book of the Bible John was granted a vision of that light, the New Jerusalem. He wrote, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day – and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:22-27)
We use candles and light in different ways throughout the year. At times this use of light helps to set a mood for worship, but always there is an overarching point to using candles in church. The candles in worship remind us of that greater Light, which encourages us to push ahead for there is a Light at the end.
Go to the light in Jesus’ Name,