The service was over. The clergy and acolytes, the crucifer with the crucifix, the torchbearers bearing their torches, recessed down the red carpet to the narthex doors. The six giant candles on the high altar still burned brightly. The Sanctus lamp remained lit as well, a red beacon hanging from the ceiling where the nave steps into the sanctuary.
The hymn ended, the organ fell quiet. In the silence one of the red-robed acolytes returned, striding seriously up the side aisle, entered the sacristy, and emerged with a long pole to snuff out the altar candles. He began at the far left, maneuvering the pole so that the snuffer sat gently over the flame, depriving it of oxygen and extinguishing it. In the silence I watched him, and in the silence the congregation watched too, still, unmoving, breathless.
It had been a pensive morning. Today was the last Sunday of the Children’s Summer Program and I was sad it was ending. But I was also glad to have had the remarkable blessing of another summer to sing and talk about God’s great love for us. I was glad to see the children laugh, as they learned about the Apostles’ Creed and the Church Year. And I was glad simply to be small part of God’s working in their lives.
Now, as the regular staff returns to teach, I look forward to more time in the liturgy, more time to pray, more time to adore. I look forward to God’s working in my own heart, straightening me out where I am crooked. I will anticipate this hour each week with great gladness, an hour to pause in a quiet and holy place, away from the political turmoil that is heating up with the coming elections, away from the challenges and threats to our way of life as Americans, away from the reality of laws that maim us and kill us and threaten our freedoms. As a Christian I cannot ignore these things as they swirl about me, bumping into my consciousness, for I must bear witness to the truth, but it is good to pause for an hour once a week in a quiet and holy place and to be fed by God.
I’ve been thinking lately about the miracle of prayer, especially intercessory prayer, how we hold a name up to God through the Cross (as Raymond Raynes says). We pray for people by name and we pray for those who cannot pray for themselves or do not pray for themselves. We pray for those mentally infirm and those who do not believe in God. In the back of our Prayer Book there is a section called Family Prayer. Here I am given the words to pray even for the spirit of prayer itself. There are special prayers for the morning, for the night, for Sunday Morning. There are prayers for “Quiet Confidence,” and guidance, for trustfulness, for “Joy in God’s Creation,” for children, for those far away whom we love, for those nearby whom we love, for the sick, for a birthday… and many more. These are words to help me say what I want to say but can’t find the words. They are delightful and lovely prayers. They are useful prayers.
I’m going to try to memorize a few, beginning with the Sunday Morning prayer. Other prayers I have learned through the years – the Lord’s Prayer, bedtime and morning prayers, psalms – and these have bridged the divide between myself and God, pulling him close. And it is good as I go through my day, my minutes and my hours, that he is close by. It makes all the difference in my day, my minutes and my hours.
Ask and ye shall receive. Behold I stand at the door and knock… Prayer opens the door. Prayer invites him inside. Prayer encourages conversation before the hearth of my heart, the flames warming me with his love.
This morning I watched the acolyte snuff the last candle on the high altar, and the sanctuary grew suddenly dim. As the organ burst out in a joyous final postlude, my eyes rested on the red candle that remained, in the Sanctus lamp.
The red candle flamed still, would always be kept lit. Just so, I thought, our prayers will light up our culture when the last candle goes out, as it may one day. Our prayers will always burn with the oxygen of God’s breath. Our prayers will breathe upon our nation, flaming brightly.
God’s light can never be snuffed out.