As we start worship this morning, I want to acknowledge that I am aware that the candles have not been lit. It’s not a mistake or an oversight. It is intentional. I’m actually hoping that keeping the candles dark now will make you appreciate them even more when I light them later on. Sometimes it works that way, you know: the absence of a thing makes us more keenly aware of how precious that thing is. For example, I briefly lost my sense of taste when I had COVID back in September. Boy, did that experience make me appreciate how good food tastes. And of course, on this All Saints Sunday, when we call to mind all those who are absent from among us, it is only natural that we sense how precious those who have died were to us when we walked side by side in this life, and are precious they still are in our memories. Yes, absence can highlight meaning. So for now . . . no candles . . . so that we don’t take them for granted, and so that, when they are lit, we may appreciate their light even more.
Before I begin my sermon, I’d like to ask you to get two things ready, because you will need them during this time: please keep your two bulletin inserts in hand – the big one with the lessons and the small half sheet with the All Saints remembrance on it.
First, I’m going to direct your attention to the lessons insert, and specifically to the second lesson from Ephesians. St. Paul writes some really long and twisty sentences, and I want to focus in on and untwist just one sentence this morning. It starts in v. 17: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. If we work through this sentence carefully and boil it down to its simplest form, we see that St. Paul is praying that we may know three things (look for the what’s): 1) that we may know hope; 2) that we may know and understand our inheritance; and 3) that we may perceive God’s great power. Three things: hope, inheritance, and power.
Now it’s time to light some candles. In general, candles are like visual highlighters that point out what is important in worship. If someone walked into our worship who had never been in a Christian worship service before and knew nothing about the Christian faith, even so, their eyes would be drawn to the places where there were candles, and they would know that “something important happens here.” So the first place I’m going to light candles this morning is here at the ambo – that’s the fancy word that we use when a church only has one reading desk. And truly, something important does happen here: we hear the word of God. And that word gives us the first of the gifts that St. Paul is praying for – hope. When we hear scripture read from this place, those words inspire hope. When the sermon is proclaimed here, it is a message of hope. Even when the prayers are prayed from this place, they are our words of hope lifted before God. See the candles burning, and think about hope.
We also light candles on the altar because it, too, is a place of great importance. It is the place where God comes to us through the sacrament of holy communion. This reminds me of the second gift Paul prays for – that we may know our inheritance. It is our inheritance – our birthright as children of God – that we have a place at this table of grace. And because we have a place at this table, we have access to forgiveness and love and the very presence of Jesus Christ. Let these candles remind us of our wonderful inheritance.
And finally, I’m going to light the Paschal candle. I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m sort of breaking liturgical rules by lighting this candle today. Technically, the Paschal candle – Paschal, meaning Easter – technically we light the Paschal candle on the Sundays of Easter, at baptisms, and at funerals – all times when we highlight the resurrection of Jesus. But you know, to me it just feels right to light this candle today because All Saints Sunday is the day when we remember all those who have laid claim to the promise of the resurrection to eternal life. And this, too, is one of the gifts that St. Paul is praying for: that we perceive God’s great power. Because nowhere is God’s power more evident than in Christ’s victory over death. Let this candle remind us of the power that only God has: the power of resurrection.
And now I’m going to invite you to look at the smaller insert where you will find a liturgy of candle lighting. Because in just a few minutes, it will be your turn to light candles to highlight the memory of the people that you are remembering on this All Saints Sunday. Remembering those who have died can be sad, I know. But when you light your candles and think about your loved ones, focus also on what the candles highlight: our hope in Jesus Christ, our inheritance in the kingdom of God, and the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and will also bring us all to eternal life.