By Jim Tune
I love candles. That may seem like an unusual confession from a middle-aged, conservative, nonliturgical male. I like them at home and at church. I buy pure beeswax candles and love to light up our house with them during the dark winter months. They do nothing for my wife. Claudia just prays I don’t burn the house down.
The flickering glow of a candle flame warms my heart. Unlike the electric lights in our home, candles protest the end of their life with a silent gasp of smoke when they are extinguished. Usually a remnant of melted wax or burned bits of wick bear witness to the flame that once shone. Even the burned bits tell a story.
I read recently of a liturgical mainstream church that made use of candles in its worship. The church would light a new Paschal candle every Easter and let it burn throughout the Easter vigil and other special occasions. Tradition calls for a new Paschal candle to be lit every Easter.
A number of years ago the church adopted a new ritual. Instead of replacing the candle with a new one, now each Easter a candle is created out of the melted-down remains of all the candles used in the previous months of liturgies. In this way the candle is also representing the church itself—one church with lots of beautiful imperfections in it. The smooth, golden beeswax is flecked with bits of burned wick and debris. Candle-gazers spend time recalling the burned-down remains of the stories they carry with them, recognizing that even the imperfect bits of their lives bring texture and shape to the body of Christ. It is an expression of diversity—even imperfection—in the midst of unity. God and others form us into something new, but the burned bits remain.
I like this illustration. It reminds me the church is filled with sinners. One of those sinners is called pastor. Yet God brings together our burned bits, our irregularities and imperfections, and redeems them into something useful and beautiful. Corrie ten Boom put it this way, “Be united with other Christians. A wall with loose bricks is not good. The bricks must be cemented together.” Yet a stronger thing than wax or cement binds us together. The apostle Paul reminds us, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14).
It is love that allows us to accept the burned and broken bits in our brothers and sisters in Christ. We worship a God who gets redemptive and holy things done in this world through, of all things, human beings, all of whom are flawed. That’s the church, a place where our most cringeworthy faults can become beautiful imperfections. Even the burned bits.