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How to...Use the Christ Candle all year Long

It started innocently enough with the Advent wreath. Each Sunday during Advent an individual or a family from our congregation came forward after the greeting to read a

passage of Scripture and to light a candle. Because of space constraints, our congregation does not have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, so at the end of the fourth Sunday we lit the Christ candle, a big pillar candle, and sang a Christmas hymn right before the benediction.

Then came an Epiphany service that focused on the light Jesus brings to our lives. This theme was reinforced through the Christ candle, which remained lit on the communion table; through various hymns throughout the service; and through the confession and reconciliation, which was framed by the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and concluded with the reconciliation from John 1:9, 12: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world . . .”

The worship committee decided to keep the emphasis on light throughout Epiphany. For continuity, we used the same confession and reconciliation each Sunday of the season—prayer, reconciliation, and hymn framing that portion of the service, two verses before and two verses after. The Christ candle was lit for each service.

We also held a “scapegoat” service of forgiveness and renewal during Epiphany. In Leviticus 16:5-10, God commanded the Israelites to send a goat into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away their sins and rebellion. During the service, worshipers were invited to write some of their sins from the previous year on a slip of paper. At the close of the service, they were asked to come forward and burn the slip of paper with their sins by lighting it from the Christ candle, reminding us that Christ has become our scapegoat and burned our sins from God’s memory.

Then came Lent. Because of space constraints, we could hold either a Maundy Thursday or a Good Friday service, but not both, so we opted for Maundy Thursday. A member of the worship team had attended a Lenten service that included the reverse of the Advent candle-lighting—a passage of Scripture relating to the betrayal of Jesus was read and a candle extinguished. We saw this as a way to incorporate the missing Good Friday Tenebrae service into our weekly worship. We researched passages in which Jesus is betrayed (see box) foreshadowing his ultimate betrayal, and lined up six candles on the communion table with the Christ candle in the middle. Each week during Lent someone read one of these passages and extinguished one more candle.

For Maundy Thursday we planned a simple service centered around handwashing (our modern corollary of footwashing) and communion. The service ended with the worship leader carrying the Christ candle down the central aisle to the back of the congregation during a reading of Psalm 22. Meanwhile, two others covered the communion table in black cloth and took down the worship banners. At the end of the psalm reading, the candle and the lights were extinguished. Worshipers left in silence.

On Easter Sunday the Christ candle was carried down the center aisle to the front of the sanctuary, accompanied by the sounds of trumpets and singing in the joyous opening hymn “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” The lighted Christ candle remained in the center of the communion table for each service in Eastertide.

One of the services included a baptism. A candle in an iron holder was lit from the Christ candle with these words: “[Name], we light this candle for your baptism to represent your life in Christ. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’”(John 8:12). The flame represents the light of Jesus entering the life of the baptized child; the iron holder, the congregation’s strong support for the child’s life in Christ.

On Pentecost Sunday, the last in the series, the lighted Christ candle was placed in center of the communion table at the beginning of the service. During the opening hymn about half a dozen members of the congregation came forward from their seats and placed floating candles at random around the Christ candle to show how Christ’s light goes out into all the world.

Using the Christ candle in each service from Advent through Pentecost was a simple way to illustrate the connections throughout Christ’s story. And it was a powerful reminder of Christ’s light in our lives.

Lenten Readings

• First Sunday: Luke 5:17-21
• Second Sunday: Luke 6:1-11
• Third Sunday: Luke 8:26-37
• Fourth Sunday: John 5:1-18
• Fifth Sunday: John 10:22-33
• Sixth Sunday: Luke 19:28-47