Easter Fire – Br. Curtis Almquist

“Look upon him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

At the Easter Vigil, during the pre-dawn darkness, we announce Christ’s resurrection by first kindling a New Fire, lighting the great Paschal Candle, and proclaiming repeatedly: “The light of Christ!”  “The light of Christ!”  “The light of Christ!”  Fire is a powerful symbol.  Fire provides warmth for the body and a hearth for food.  Fire provides light, and without electricity, fire and light are both alike.  In the scriptures, the symbols of fire and light are often used interchangeably.  The psalmist writes, “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.”[i] And, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”[ii] For the people of Israel during the years of Exodus, the glory of the Lord, shone in the Shekinah: a pillar of fire which guided the people by night.[iii] In the ancient Jewish Feast of Booths, a great candelabra was lighted in the Temple at Jerusalem on the first day, and there followed great processions with the faithful carrying torches in hand, not unlike what is done here and in so many places early Easter morning.  We do this in memory of God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.[iv] And so, it is no surprise that the long-awaited Messiah was anticipated as a light-bearer.[v] Jesus even said of himself that he is “the light of the world”: the fire of light, the fire of love.[vi]

But fire is a mixed metaphor, because fire can also have such a destructive side.  So much of the nightmare of history is incendiary.  In this last century, the heinous side of fire has been used in the pogroms of Poland and Germany, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, Darfur, Palestine, and in recent years in Kenya.  In our own country, even within the last 50 years, we have these terrible scenes of Ku Klux Klan crosses ablaze, of the fire bombing of the children in Church at Birmingham, of the twin towers in New York imploding in flames, of suicide bombers searing the lives of so many.  This is the other kind of fire, used with such hellish cruelty.  Fire is a mixed metaphor.

The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congre­gations of Britain and the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, says that “…religion is not what the European Enlighten­ment thought it would become: mute, marginal and mild.  It is fire, and like fire, it warms but it also burns.  Rabbi Sacks says that we – speaking primarily of Jews and Muslims and Christians – “are the guardians of the flame.”[vii] Tragically, it is inflamed religious passion that has often caused, not resolved, but caused so many global conflicts.  How do we claim this Fire of Easter as a symbol of Christ’s light and life and love?  Several things come to mind:

  • First, the scriptures speak of fire as in a “crucible,” which is a melting pot for metals which burns away the dross, leaving only what is pure and true.[viii] Is there any dross in your from which you need to be freed, made pure and whole.  Dross mars who you really are.  If there is something that is old, encumbering you – a memory, a resentment,  a habit, a relationship, a belief – even something that used to be alive, used to be manageable, used to give you meaning, or identity, or security, and it is no longer a living reality but more like an encrustment suffocating you, maybe poisoning you or scarring you, let it go.  Make this dross your offering to God, in what the scriptures call “the refiner’s fire.”[ix] Let it go, let it burn, give it up.  Dross will really get in your way.  The ancient language of the church speaks of the “Paschal Mystery.”  The Paschal Mystery is that life comes out of death, amazingly enough.  Out of Christ’s death comes life, and so for us.  If there’s something you need to pronounce “dead” or “deadly” in your life, pronounce it.  If there’s something of your past life that’s simply on a ventilator, let it die.  It’s the only way you will know life, know the resurrection life that Jesus promises.  Use this symbol of fire as a crucible to burn away dross in your own life.
  • Secondly, bring the light into your life.  Many people suffer from light deprivation, from seasonal affective disorder.  This can also afflict the soul.  This season of your life, if your soul is deprived of the light it needs, that light will only come from God, who is the source of all light, “in whom there is no darkness at all.”[x] God faces us in Jesus; you can face God because of Jesus.  Let God’s light shine on your own countenance.[xi] “Look upon him and be radiant.”[xii] In the Easter Gospel where the women come to the tomb, they are afraid.  They are told twice, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus says to them (to you): “Don’t be afraid.”  “Don’t you be afraid.”  If you find yourself afraid, let God’s light shine on your fear, and your fear will burn away like the morning fog.  Saint Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[xiii] Meet God face-to-face.  Receive God’s light.  Don’t live your life cowering, with your shoulders hunched, your eyes to the ground.  Receive God’s light shining on your own countenance.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.
  • Then finally, the fire of love.  You have been created by God for the love of it.  You have been given life to radiate that love to a world desperate and dying to be loved.  Claim the essence of your identity as a lover, a lover of God, and then mirror that love with your life and with great generosity.  If there’s something inside of you that is timid or apologetic, if you are just “sort of living,” if you’re waiting to get a life, if you’re looking for the meaning of life, you need to let the timid fire in your soul really burn.  A smoking fire wants to burn.  It’s ready; the fire is set, just ventilate the fire and the flames will spring to life.  This is the fire of God’s love which has already been set in your soul, and it wants to burn.  Let it burn.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”[xiv]

Centuries ago, in the beginnings of monasticism in the Egyptian desert, the story is told of Abba Lot who came to Abba Joseph and said: “Father, according as I am able, I keep my rule of life, my fasting, my prayer, my meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of wicked thoughts.  Now what more should I do?”  Abba Joseph rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire.  He said, “Why not be totally changed into fire?”

[i] Psalm 119:105.

[ii] Psalm 27:1.

[iii] Exodus 13:21-22; 14:24.

[iv] 1 John 1:5.

[v] Matthew 4:16.

[vi] John 8;12; 9:5.

[vii] Jonathan Sacks in The Dignity of Difference; How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (Continuum), p. 11.

[viii] Proverbs 17.3: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.”  Also, Proverbs 25.4: “Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel…”

[ix] Malachi 3:2-3.

[x] Psalm 139:11  “Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.”

[xi] Numbers 6:24-26 – “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

[xii] Psalm 34:5.

[xiii] Romans 8:38-39.

[xiv] Matthew 5:14.

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  1. Michael on May 8, 2018 at 09:16

    Ah, to burn away old thoughts, resents, and ideas – easier said then done, but I practice until practice becomes belief and belief becomes the change that can frees us

    • keith on May 9, 2018 at 05:50

      thank you

  2. Christina on May 13, 2017 at 10:32

    SAD is all encompassing. It is a depression that leaves sufferers without a will to do anything much. Yes. You get up in the morning, get dressed, and on and on. But nothing (including one’s faith) seems to be worthwhile. What’s it all for anyway.
    Every Fall, I think,’I’m going to conquer SAD – I’m not going to let it engulf me.’ But round about February/March it catches up until real springtime arrives. This year has been bad. We have had an unusual winter: up and down temperatures; and, more recently many days of rain and cold winds. We’ve just had four nice days – what a relief, but this morning it is raining and grey skies.
    That aside, I know of God’s love for me so I’m not abandoning my faith, it will carry me through. There’s just no use hearing from someone, ‘You need to get over it.’ Depression doesn’t work that way.
    Blessings to all – especially those at this reluctant springtime who are suffering from SAD. Christina

  3. Elizabeth Hardy on April 8, 2016 at 09:16

    I’m on Sabbath leave and enjoying time to read these posts and focus on them. This one is really important to me. I need to stop thinking there is a better life out there than the one I am living, that someone has a happier, nicer life, stop waiting to get a life, live me own and use the many gifts God has given me to fan the generosity I know I am capable of. Thanx Curtis

  4. Muriel Akam on April 7, 2016 at 12:26

    Hanging on to old resentments, poor memories are the things I need to burn away and receive cleansing and a new way of looking at those old thoughts and resentments. Change them into something positive and bright and I already feel the light entering leaving the beginnings of good memories .

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  6. Lisa on April 15, 2015 at 09:37

    What a wonderful sermon. The message is just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  7. anders on April 14, 2015 at 13:32

    Thank you. Dross and light. Your analogies hit home: I have walked with sparks in metaphorical forests stuffed with dead undergrowth and I have also received effective treatment for literal seasonal affective disorder. SAD of the soul is a greater challenge, even in the friendly confines of the church. I am on a journey to find a supportive community led by a contemplative on the wisdom path, rather than the moralist on the judgment path, and it is good.

  8. Donna Kallmeyer on April 14, 2015 at 09:13

    Your powerful message makes me think of a quote from Pierre de Chardin. “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.” A wonderful thought.

  9. Marilee Pittman on April 14, 2015 at 07:30

    A powerful message. Thank you. Pray for the breeze.

  10. Mary Weston on May 6, 2014 at 10:18

    The alchemy of Christianity. Very powerful!

  11. MSamuelsen on May 5, 2014 at 13:04

    The character, Dixie Longate, speaks of such a forward, and happy, attitude in her current show. If not strictly scripture, the meaning is closely related. Be happy and radiant, bring joy to others.

  12. Ruth West on May 5, 2014 at 12:36

    Br. Curtis, this is a significant message. Thank you.
    One of my favorite scriptures is Psa. 27. “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom should I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life;
    of whom should I be afraid? “

  13. Emily B. Osborn on May 5, 2014 at 10:56

    I am 87. Many, many years ago I had the insight that I should live as walking on a model’s runway with a spotlight on me. ebo

    • Joanna. Cotter on April 14, 2015 at 11:47

      Like Christ we can live in & through light by seeing that we are all God’s children while still knowing we will sin when our appetite exceeds our needs. Yet God will still light the Way.

  14. Connie Holmes on May 5, 2014 at 10:34

    Touched and inspired by this meditation on light and fire, burning away fear. Thank you, Br. Curtis.

  15. debbie armstrong on April 20, 2013 at 12:07

    I loved this sermon about fear.

    Much of the time I feel so sick. My fear is that I am dying.
    I have had tests and the doctors so far cannot find anything wrong.
    I have so much chronic stomach pain. Its bad.
    So my question is how do I apply this sermon of “let God shine His light on my fear”?

    I am grateful for this Word and will meditate on it and the scriptures you have given.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Christina on May 5, 2014 at 09:50

      Debbie: It is a year ago since you wrote. I hope you are feeling better. If you are still fearful of your health, perhaps this will help. Pray to God to GRANT YOU THE WILL to put away your fear. Christina

  16. Allene Taylor on April 20, 2013 at 07:00

    Thnak you, Bro. Curtis, for your words – especial Romans 8:38 & 39 –
    esepcially this morning.

  17. Barb Yatsevitch on April 20, 2013 at 05:49

    How Blessed I am, how Blessed we all are to start off our day with such fine thoughts … and Light! After all the evil and darkness of this past Boston weekend, it’s heartwarming and healing to be shown our God and His Love and Light.

  18. Barbara Hughes on June 20, 2011 at 18:57

    Inspiring and thought provoking. Thank you Br. Curtis.

  19. Barbara Miley on June 17, 2011 at 07:49

    An excellent sermon. Look forward to more.

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