The First Fire

Column for April, 2017

Last year about this time, we started cleaning out the office.  We had papers and files which were important to keep at one time, but which had piled up over the years.  We found offering counting tallies from the mid-1980s.  We found letters from brides requesting the use of the sanctuary for their weddings who now have children graduating from college.  We found extra copies of minutes, bulletins, and newsletters reporting events and incidents long since forgotten.  There was a lot of paper, and while we knew we had to keep the really important stuff, much of it needed to be removed from the office.


We recycled most of the everyday stuff, but some of the papers needed to be shredded, just to make sure we were not spreading any information around that people would not want spread.  About the same time, we were celebrating Easter.  And so, I had an idea.


One of the ancient traditions of the church is to kindle a new fire at the first service of the Great Festival of Easter.  The new fire is symbolic of Jesus’ resurrection.  At the end of the Maundy Thursday service, the Christ candle, which represents the light of Christ in the world, exits the darkened sanctuary last.  On Good Friday, there is no candle in the sanctuary.  These moves communicate the painful truth of those days:  when Jesus died on the cross, it is as if the Light of the World had left the world.


But on Easter, everything begins fresh again.  The tomb was empty.  The angels declared, “he is not here; he is risen!”  Jesus was raised to a new kind of life: an abundant and eternal life-after-death.  And so we kindle a new fire, and from that fire, we light the Christ candle anew and carry it back into the sanctuary to illuminate our highest celebration of the year.  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!


When I was preparing for our first service of Easter, which is our SonRise service in our cemetery on Easter morning at 8 a.m., I thought, “What would make better fuel to start a new fire than 30-year-old papers which need to be destroyed anyway?”  So that is what I used.  I was a bit nervous.  The morning was a bit damp from rain the night before.  I found some dry kindling under the eaves of the buildings, but still:  what if the fire refused to light?  If the “special effects” didn’t work, then we would not be able to complete the service as planned!  Whose silly idea was this?!?


Isn’t that the truth of Easter, though?  For those women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning, things certainly did not come off as planned.  They had everything prepared, but when they arrived at the tomb, there were some tense moments of worry and waiting.  Then, slowly, they uncovered the story, and they came to understand what happened.  Jesus’ body, which was 30 years old and lifeless, had been kindled into new life for himself and for the whole world!


The fire ignited by the 30-year-old offering tally sheets worked.  After we gathered on the walkway between the Education Building and the Sanctuary, I read a bit of scripture, we sang our opening chant, and then I stepped out into the drizzle to our makeshift fire pit with the lighter.  And by the grace of God, the papers lit well.  The fire started right on cue.  We read some more, we prayed some more, we sang some more as we processed, and the Alleluias of Easter rang again.


I hope you will join us as we reenact that drama in our worship once again this year.  The schedule for our Holy Week and Easter Sunday services is later in this newsletter.  Mark your calendars to join us for as many of those services as you can.  If you need a ride, call us in the church office and we will help you make arrangements.  Do whatever is necessary, because it is the greatest story we can tell and share and use to praise God together:  the Light of the World shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.


Christ is risen!  Christ is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.