Our children’s holiday club after Easter was called ‘On Your Marks.’ It had a sporting theme as we looked at how Jesus invites us onto his team. We wore a team strip, we decorated the church buildings with flags and banners, we did daily warm-ups and even had an eternal flame burning! At the Olympic Games a torch is used to light the cauldron so that the eternal flame burns throughout the contest. The symbol of the eternal flame has of course got classic origins: it celebrates the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus.
An eternal flame features in ancient Israelite history. A seven branched candelabra was to burn continuously in the Tabernacle set up by Moses in the desert: “The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Leviticus 6v12-13). It was later located in the Jerusalem Temple and, beyond its destruction in AD 70, modern Judaism continued the tradition by having a sanctuary lamp always lit above the ark in the synagogue. The fire seems to have represented the continual worship of God, the ongoing dedication of the worshipper and a reminder of the worshipper’s constant need of atonement for their sin.
In the New Testament the continual presence of God with His people is assured: the blood of Christ ensures our atonement with God. But this promise carries with it the responsibility to ensure that we keep the divine fire burning within our lives. The Apostle Paul instructs the church: “do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (I Thess 5v16). It also speaks of our ongoing need for atonement, but that “he [i.e. Christ] always lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7v25). What wonderful truths!
The hymn by Charles Wesley brings together these ideas:
O thou who camest from above
The pure celestial fire impart
Kindle a sacred flame of love
On the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze
And trembling to its source return
In humble prayer and fervent praise.
So, as we track the route of the eternal flame and it passes by our area on 30th May, perhaps it will serve as a reminder to Christians of the greater impact of ensuring that the Spirit’s flame is never quenched in our lives. We have the festival of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given to all of God’s people on the Sunday before the torch passes through our area. It is a timely reminder to live as the people God intends us to be: on continual worship of whole lives dedicated to Him.