Lent 2015 is coming to an end, and I write one last entry in this log of pastoral memories. As the season began, I chose to make this my primary Lenten discipline: to write each day, and to write about the pastoral work from which I was called into retirement. On the face of it, this daily activity doesn’t seem like much of a “discipline.” But, because I still try to write somewhat thoughtfully, and care about such old-fashioned things as syntax, style, and, yes, spelling, sometimes these little essays of mine took a couple of hours of each Lenten day. (I know…hard to believe, isn’t it?)

Now, it is the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Day. Some call today “Holy Saturday.” Others “Black Saturday,” or its very opposite, the “Saturday of Light.” It’s also known as The Great Sabbath (Sabatum Sanctum). I like all of those better than “Easter Eve.”

Maybe we could just consider today “the day between…” — that is, between the grave darkness of Crucifixion Day and the brilliant Lightness of Resurrection Day. On this “day between…” I share one last remembrance of the pastorates I served. It involves candles.

Joan and I have a candle in almost every window of our home. They are electric candles, perhaps not as romantic or authentic as real flames, but a lot safer. We like light, especially when darkness falls and we are surrounded by light’s absence, that visual nothingness that a little flickering light can defeat. Maybe someone might think of these candles as little more than a nightlight in each room. But Joan and I think of them as far more.

Our consideration of such a thing goes back to a conference sponsored by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, held at our alma mater Westminster College, in New Wilmington, PA. One summer evening after supper, we took a walk around the village and noticed a single white-bulbed candle shining in the front windows of most of the homes we passed. I later asked our by-then retired Dean of Students Graham Ireland why New Wilmington was filled with candles. “It”s just a sign of friendship and welcome,” he told us. Turns out, as we later paid more attention, it seemed to be a customary thing in many parts of Pennsylvania. (The tradition may have some Amish roots there, but going back further, this may be an Irish custom.)

We liked the idea. And when we got home, we pulled from the attic one of the candles we used at Christmastime, and put it in the front window of our Richmond house. At the time, U.S. forces were involved in the 1990 “Gulf War,” and on my weekly radio programs, I promoted the idea of putting a candle in the window to “keep Christmas” until troops came home, but also as a sign of peace. And hope. Light against the darkness. Like the parable of the sower, the idea spread (radio helped!), and we noticed that all over the Richmond area, candles appeared in windows well after Christmas was over.

Even when that “campaign” had played out, many candles remained, including that of our neighbor across the street, and the church where I served as Associate Pastor. The symbol of that little light had various meanings. Welcome. Peace. Safety. I’ve previously written on this site that one night a young woman seeking shelter from a storm of abuse found her way to a comforting friend’s home, and it was my friend’s “candle in the window” that literally lighted the way down a strange, dark road. “How will I find my way to your house?” the young woman asked on the phone.

“My house is the one with a candle in the front window.” A safe haven found.

When Joan and I moved to Vermont, we placed candles in the windows of the manse there, and one frigid night in the midst of Vermont’s seemingly unceasing winter, two strangers knocked on our door well after midnight. The young men had spun their car off the snowy road into a ditch, and hiked toward the only visible light they could see…our candles. “We saw the light,” one explained. “Can we borrow your phone so I can call my Dad?” Welcome, indeed. And a warm one.

The brown-shingled East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church was just across a small field from the manse. During those long winter nights, it stood dark against the landscape. I really wanted to see some spark of life there, and I thought a little spark of light would make a difference. So, I went up into the tower room and put a candle in the stained glass window. It was a sign of life. To me, a sign of peace. And, again, welcome, especially on those very dark nights. I was prepared to defend the constant burning of the candle against any complaints that we were wasting electricity. I would say, “Look, it’s only 4 watts; take it out of my pay.” But, of course, no one complained.

I know that when I moved from Bon Air Presbyterian Church in Virginia to Vermont, the interim pastor who followed me had the candle removed from the front window. He reportedly said, “I don’t think we need Jeff’s candle there anymore now that he’s gone.” He didn’t get it at all. And I suspect that when I left Vermont for New York State, that the candle there eventually went dark too. I guess it was my thing after all. There I was then in the Trumansburg church, and there in my study window, facing Main Street, I put a candle. Just a little sign again of life. And welcome. And peace. Light against whatever darkness one perceived.

And here we are. I no longer have a church to pastor. But there’s a candle in each window of our home. Of course, our home isn’t the only one with candles. A neighbor whom we’ve never met also keeps candles alight. From New Wilmington to Lancaster, from Williamsburg to Richmond, in Ireland and, I hope, in Jerusalem, candles burn, hope lives, welcome beckons, and people yearn for peace.

On this Saturday, the day between the times, called both black and light, we await the sunrise that will dawn with eternal light. Light, no longer flickering, not merely persistent, but shining with a brilliance that will never be extinguished. Easter.

A candle. and then, the Sunrise.

Advertisements