Candlemas – using candles to find our light.
For use in a service of Christian worship around 2nd February.
So here we are at the beginning of February, often considered a time of year when people are feeling that the cold winter days are going on a bit, Christmas seems a distant memory, and there’s not too much to look forward to other than the probability of more snow, rain and chilly winds. The people of times gone past certainly would have felt this time of year very keenly as the food stocks began to diminish, and going out to look for firewood could mean a long trudge through whatever the weather offered. The hope of warmer, brighter days would have been strongly in their mind as perhaps they are for us?
Well there’s one positive thing that you may well have noticed around this time – and that is that the days are getting noticeably a little bit longer. It was in fact still light at 5pm yesterday evening – a whole hours difference to 6 weeks ago, when the shortest day gave us only less than 8 hours daylight.
The ancient peoples would certainly have noticed this, and in pre-Christian times they would have undergone certain rituals to encourage the sun to increase in power and bring back the sunlight that they craved. These rituals would almost certainly have included the lighting fires and tapers of light.
Whilst of course with the advent of science we know that all life depends to some extent on sunlight, we also know that we do not need to light fires in order for Spring and Summer to come round again. But more than this, as Christians also we recognise that we depend on a far a greater light – that of the Light of Christ.
Given the way that the seasons affect us, it is perhaps not too surprising that the church chose this time to bless the candles that were to be used throughout the year. The blessing of candles at Candlemas dates back to the 11th Century, and to a time when candles and oil lamps were the only source of light available during the dark hours. From the start Christians used candles for the practical purpose of providing light in places like the Catacombs, where they met in secret to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Soon candles came to represent the Light of Christ, and were used at baptism and confirmation to symbolize the Christian turning from the darkness of sin to the redeeming Light of Jesus.
So here we are surrounded by all these beautiful candles, with our Easter Candle here in the centre. This candle was originally lit for the first time at the Easter service of first light and its purpose is to represent the Light of Christ. It has been lit for every baptism that has happened in this church during the year. After the hymn I’m going to lead a short meditation during which I will invite you to come forward and light your candle from the Easter candle as a way of demonstrating that we are all lit from the one true source – our Lord Jesus.
All life seeks light in order to grow, and depends on the sun for food and warmth. Simeon and Anna sort the greater and uncreated Light of God and recognised Jesus as that very Light. Just as they did, we seek the Light of Christ for our soul’s well being, and while we appreciate all the good things God gives us, including the hope of warmer days & sunshine, we celebrate this opportunity to offer our lives to Him the one true redeemer of all things.
We’re now going to think about lighting our Candlemas candles. Please could you take hold of your candle.
So as we think about Jesus the Light of the world, recognised by Anna and Simeon, and recognised by ourselves here today, we reflect on all that he gives us, especially his Light.
God is present everywhere. ‘If I go up to the highest Heavens you are there, if I go down to the depths of the Earth you are there.’ We are never out of God’s reach, and that is always a comfort. In the same way we can recognise Jesus’ presence in all that we meet. Christ the living Word, through whom all things were made, loves all people and indeed all Creation. As with Anna and Simeon it is our response that will make all the difference – as the Holy Spirit enables us to recognise Jesus, and ignites that fire within us, so that we can blaze with his Love.
Jesus calls us to shine as a lights in the world. It is of course his Light that he calls to shine in us, not the impressiveness of our own deeds. Sometimes keeping that light burning can be hard; there is plenty to dowse the flame in a world that does not recognise or welcome his Light. And so we need to come back to Jesus regularly in order to reacquaint ourselves with the warmth of his love; just as a flame needs oxygen so that it can burn brightly, we need to take moments to nourish our relationship with him.
So, as we prepare to come forward to light our candles from this beautiful Easter candle, let’s for a moment focus on this one flame. It is of course just a candle flame, but for us at this time, this candle represents Christ’s living flame. Christ’s flame that burns continually and burns for all. Christ is Light for all, and is Light for us each individually. At the end of the day it is our response to Jesus’ Light that will make the difference. In the lighting of our candles we acknowledge where our true Light comes from, and we open ourselves up still further to his healing Light for ourselves and for the whole world.
Let is spend a moment of quiet and the stillness, as we focus on the Easter candle, drawing our minds to Christ the Light of the world, the Light our souls yearn for.
And when you are ready, please come forward and light your candle, and then return to your seat.
Now we all have our candles burning, representing Christ’s Light as he burns within you. A Light to dispel darkness and fear, to enlighten your mind, to brighten dull days and show a clear path before you.
Christ’s Light is given freely, yet so precious. Let us consider the wonder of the way that this Light shines within us now. We are indeed blessed by this Light, and we in return are encouraged to bless.
We are united in our lights, all our lights are burning from a light symbolizing the one true Light of Christ. In this light we are one with each other and one with Christ. Together we burn brightly to the glory of God.
Around the edges of our church, on the window sills and on the chancel screen we have another hundred candles burning. I’d like to invite you to think of these candles as representing those that are no longer with us, but whose lights none the less burn brightly in Heaven. You may like to think of those who have worshipped here with us and no doubt held their candle, as we do, for services of Advent, Easter or Candlemas. Faithful souls who are now with the Lord. We are surrounded by a host of faithful witnesses, we are part of an unseen and far greater Communion of Heaven.
Let us all as one shine as a light in the world to the glory of God our Saviour.
In a moment we will all blow our candles out. But before we do I’d like us to say a short prayer to help us take the flame home with us in our imaginations, so that we can remember that we always have Christ’s Light with us as we go about our lives.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the Light of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We praise you for this Light. As we look at our candles, we ask that we should remember this moment. Help us to think about the way that your Light, just as this candle burns, burns within us. Help us to act in ways that protects, nourishes and cherishes your light within us, so that we may always remain conscious of our connection with you.
Please raise your candle. Christ’s light remains with us as we blow out out candles [blow]