Lent has fiery bookends. It begins with the imposition of charred palm on Ash Wednesday, and, in many congregations, concludes with a service of light. All congregations dedicate a new Paschal candle on Easter that will be lit to recall the Resurrection during each baptism and funeral for the next year.
Fire appears throughout the Bible, so the symbol occurs repeatedly in our liturgical life. In Scripture, fire nearly always marks God's presence. God appears to Abraham in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and to the Israelites as a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21). We display images of tongues of fire on Pentecost, remembering the Spirit's appearance among the apostles (Acts 2:3).
Across religious traditions, fire is a vehicle for purification and sacrifice. In our tradition, fire recalls the burnt sacrifices offered throughout the Old Testament, including Elijah's cook-off with the prophets of Baal in which even a dampened altar couldn't deter the "fire of the Lord" (1 Kings 18:38).
We light and extinguish altar candles to mark our time of worship together. In Advent, we mark the passage of time with a candle for each week, dispelling the darkness of waiting and hoping for the coming light.
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