Jesus said: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)
In the sacristy of the church I served, there was a whole drawer of old, used candles. After being on the altar for a season, it seemed like all old candles would somehow end up in this particular drawer. I never knew why. Perhaps it was a member of the altar guild, the church custodian, or an usher readying the sanctuary for worship who changed out the candles. Most people knew where the new ones were stored for when they were needed.
But it was the drawer of old candles that always intrigued me. Like a solemn funerary vault that held the remains of the faithful dead, candles that had burned on the altar would be laid to rest in that drawer after fulfilling their purpose. It was as if people were reluctant to throw away something that had been made holy by its use in worship. Or maybe it was just an old habit that people absent-mindedly followed because it had always been done that way.
In that drawer, many of the old candles were mere nubs, burned down to about an inch or so of wax remaining. But too often, there were candles in the drawer that were still of a decent length, four or five inches long. I wondered who felt the need to retire a half-burned candle before its time. It seemed to me like such a waste – poor stewardship, I would probably call it.
So when the occasion presented itself, I would go to that drawer to get those old candles and put them to use. Usually, it was because I wanted candles for an object lesson in teaching. Or it might be for a special evening service, where I would put out clusters of candles of various heights. In one way or another, the candles were not wasted.
As I reflect on Discipleship and what it means to live out our faith in everyday lives, giving ourselves in service to our Lord, I am reminded of what candles are meant for, and what they represent. When Jesus tells his disciples, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work,” I remember that we, like the old candles in that drawer, will someday be put to rest. This is the “promised rest” of which the Scriptures speak. Following a life well lived in faith, God has prepared for each one of us a final Sabbath, where we, like Lazarus, rest in the bosom of our ancestors.
But until that day, we must do the work of him who sent Jesus. For not only is Christ “The Light of the World” (Jn. 9:5), but he has sent us out as his disciples to be lights to the world ourselves:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
It is my hope, prayer, and intention as a disciple of Christ, that I would be one of those candles that is burned down to a nub by the time I am put in that drawer. I want to have given what I have and what I am in the Lord’s service, so that when there is nothing left to give, I will have been “used up” by God.
I realize to some, this may not seem like a comforting image, or one to be desired. Many people don’t like to think of death as an end, but prefer to talk about it as simply a “transition” from one active state to another. But speaking for myself, I look forward to the Sabbath that God has prepared at the end of all things. To rest in peace, to rest in the Lord, is the consummation of a life of faithful service. God himself rested of his labors after the work of his creation.
This gives me hope because I know that after the Sabbath a new week dawns. In Christ, we are promised a new creation – a Resurrection from the Dead – where we will once again be put to work in his kingdom, where we will be lights surrounding the One Light, in “the city (that) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).
Until then, let us burn brightly in this world as his disciples, as God uses us to reveal His light in our lives. As Scripture says: “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…˝ (Hebrews 4:9-11a)
– Pastor Steven E. King