Sunday, October 31, 2010

About Life as a Candle

An EfM classmate of mine commented that when her new priest arrived, she, the classmate, would be the tallest one at the altar on the Sundays when she was an acolyte.  Jokingly I replied that she could think of herself as another Eucharistic candle.  Her response was that she thought of herself more as a Roman candle.  It was a fun exchange but one that got me thinking about where I stood on the candle scale.

I never had much experience with fireworks. As a child I was limited to sparklers and the occasional foray with the neighbor's bottle rockets, nothing bigger. I liked fireworks for the color but the bang was intimidating. See myself as some kind of firework?  That would be a fizzler --- there's a disconnect between the lit fuse and the expected bang and flash.

I love candles. I used to enjoy making them - pouring the hot wax into the prepared mold and waiting more or less patiently to see what came out after it cooled. One year I made four fairly large pillars in purple and pink for the church advent wreath. I even scented them very lightly with a frankincense oil so they would not just look pretty but leave a very faint fragrance behind them.  They were candles I made but they weren't me.

I liked making ice candles --- pillars put inside milk cartons, then filling the carton with ice before pouring in hot wax. The ice melted but not before cooling the wax into fantastic bubbles and holes that let the candle show through.  The contrast of heat and ice was more like me but it still wasn't me.

I had a beautiful round candle holder made of bits of brightly-colored glass with leading between the pieces. Inside the holder I would place a votive candle and the light shining through the glass was like having my own private cathedral window. I loved it. It was beautiful as it was but only came alive when the candle was lit to let its real colors shine forth.  I loved the candle too, but it wasn't me.

I have a crystal candle holder, only big enough for a tea light, that has something of the same feel as the colored glass one. The candle holder is beautiful, even sitting on a bookshelf or window sill where the light can strike it. It becomes even more beautiful whee the tea light is lit, the flame dancing inside and the light flickering through the pattern of the glass. I love it, but it isn't me.

A birthday candle is a tiny thing. It is often brightly colored but once lit only lasts a minute or two before being consumed by the flame. In itself it briefly shares the spotlight with its fellow candles until being either burned out or blown out by an excited child or even a game elder.  It brings a moment of joy despite its short life. 

I can't think that I bring joy, no matter how briefly. Maybe I can bring a little comfort, a little light, a little warmth before flickering out or being put away for another time. Still, if I had to describe myself as a candle, I'd probably see myself as one of this size and use more than any other.

If I could choose my life as a candle, one I would dearly love to be is a Eucharistic one -- a tall pristine pillar, standing in a polished brass holder, representing one of the two parts of Holy Writ and shedding light on the sacred mystery taking place just next to me.  I would shed light but not be part of the mystery. I would be part of the celebration but not the celebrant or the celebrated. Still, it would be enough.

I hear the old song running through my head, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine..." Eucharistic candle, advent candle, ice candle, votive, tea light or birthday candle, my job isn't to draw attention to me but to shed light and warmth on what is around me. That's how I see my life as a candle. 

I give thanks for Roman candles (even Episcopalian ones!) which bring brightness and joy. I celebrate their gift to the world and rejoice in their colors and patterns.  I'm glad there's room in the spectrum for both the Roman candle and the birthday one.  God loves us all for what we are, not what we should be (or want to be.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Meaning of the Crucifixion

Episcopal Café has a post that contain ns the question "What does the Crucifixion mean, anyway?" Ann Fontaine challenged a member of our class to come up with her own answer. I decided it was time to look at my own ideas in a way other than just turning it over in my mind and then forgetting about it.

Crucifixion was an ancient form of capital punishment; you were hung up with ropes or nails until you died and if you didn't die in a reasonable amount of time (but not too quickly), they broke your legs to help you along. It was not hidden away behind penitentiary walls with only invited guests to view the event as it is today; it was set right out in front of God and everybody as a form of warning about what happened to those convicted criminals who committed certain crimes and to serve as a form of humiliation for both criminal and family, a very bad thing in those days. It was slow, painful, public and very ugly.

I've been to some churches where the crucifixion of Jesus is the primary event, symbolized by not just a cross but the suffering, dying or dead Christ still hanging there. This represents their view of salvation, the blood sacrifice demanded by God for the redemption of the world. It represented the lamb sacrificed in the temple for the cleansing of the people, an innocent victim made to pay the ultimate price for the sins of all. They celebrate Easter is a festival of resurrection, but the emphasis is on the crucifixion, the death.

I've also been to other churches who see the crucifixion as an event for sorrow and mourning, but they look beyond Good Friday to the glory of Easter. The crucifixion was not the end of the story, just the completion of one chapter and the beginning of another.

I tend to be one of the resurrectionists. Without the crucifixion, whether it was for political reasons, substitutionary atonement required by God or both, there would have been no opportunity for a resurrection, no need for one. I mourn on Good Friday, mourn the humiliating and painful death of the man Jesus who taught love, who healed the outcasts, who exemplified what a life devoted to God and God's service looked like. Yet unlike his mother and the women at the bottom of the cross and the apostles cowering in fear and huddled in a hidden place, I know that Jesus' death was not the end. It was one subway stop short of a full run, one act short of a full play, and one period short of a full paragraph. There was more beyond what they could see and know, thanks be to God.

I look at the cross and see more than a piece of jewelry to be worn around the neck or hanging from the rear-view mirror of the car. The cross represents my belief that salvation is fully realized – salvation from sin as typified by a symbol, the cross, and salvation from death by its emptiness.  I see hope, the hope that the Gospel promises for my redemption from sin and my own rising again in glory. I see the hope that Jesus' teachings will be our guides for creating not just a promise of heaven after death but of making a new heaven here and now.

What does the crucifixion mean, really? It means hope, and in this day and age, hope means the world – really.