Exodus 33:14 — Yahweh said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon centering on “the candles in our church sanctuary.” A few of you were astute, and noticed that I left one candle out of my sermon. This one which heads today’s devotion. I did so because upon arriving at the church to tape the sermon that day, I found this candle to have burned out, and I did not know where the candle inserts were kept, so as to relight it. I couldn’t very well reference a candle that wasn’t lit.
No big deal, right? Well for me, it sort of was a big deal. Because we call this the “Sanctuary Candle” or my preferred title, the Presence Candle. It burns continually for a week, and then is switched out for a new one. So that any time, day or night, that you step into the sanctuary, you will see this soft red glow as a reminder that you are never alone, because Jesus is with you. Or as I sometimes phrase it to people … Jesus is “present.” The short take on the history of the candle is that it traces back to the practice of the ancient Catholic Church in “reserving the host” from communion. Bread from the Eucharist was put in a tabernacle (a box) and remained in the sanctuary until the next communion service. Thus Jesus’ “real presence” was always … well … “present.” Protestants liked the idea, but weren’t so hot on the idea of that the bread was now literally Jesus body trapped in a box. So, they ditched the tabernacle but kept the candle, and turned it into a more pietistic and symbolic reminder of Jesus spiritual presence in and around us.
This of course, always gets the merry-go-round of questions in my brain turning full steam. Isn’t Jesus everywhere? Then why do we need a candle? Isn’t Jesus an incarnational God that dwells within us? So, then the moment our physical flesh steps into the room, isn’t Jesus present …because we are present? Why do we need the candle? Don’t we consider the church “God’s house? So why does Jesus need a waxen invitation, when he lives here? I could go on … but won’t.
But it did give me pause. And it made me think of the world we live in … of which, the entirety is all God’s house … God’s creation … God’s Garden of Eden. We have messed it up a bit, especially of late. We’ve forgotten the keep the candle of God’s Spirit burning as faithfully and brightly as we intend to sometimes. Like me a few weeks ago … we forget about it … we take it for granted … and at times (dare we say) we ignore it.
So, this week, the question I pose to you, is “Where do you encounter God … consistently and viscerally?” Where is your go-to place … or your go-to object … or your go-to experience … your go-to prayer … your go-to person? Heaven knows that in a world dominated by racial tensions, an insidious virus, a struggling economy, anger and divisiveness … we all need to step into the presence of Jesus. We need that strength and focus, so we can return to a world that needs us.