The chapel was in complete darkness. It was so dark that I had to find my way into the pew by touch and memory. I couldn’t see the tabernacle or the altar. The only thing I could see was the tiny glow of the red sanctuary lamp to the left of the altar. The flame was so small and flickered constantly. The red vase further diffused its light and transformed it into a little glow of crimson hovering at about the height of the altar. Since I knew the chapel so well, I thought I could just pick out a detail or two near it, but its light was too weak to really reveal anything. For all I could see, it was just me and one candle. I focused on that little light and clung to it like a life preserver. In that dark night, when I most needed consolation, that candle was all I had. At that moment, it was easy to blame it for being so small and insignificant. If the flame had been larger, or if the vase had been clear and not red, or if it had been closer, I would have been able to see the tabernacle and perhaps have drawn more consolation from it.
And yet, that tiny flame is a true consolation, because without it, the darkness would be impenetrable. It was born at midnight on Easter Sunday, when the first sparks flew from the flint and steel that kindled the Easter fire and announced the rebirth of the Risen Christ after the darkness of Good Friday. Those little sparks caught the tinder and produced a flame, which grabbed hold of the wood, the wood of Good Friday, until the flame was strong enough to kindle the Easter Candle. Rapidly now, the flame multiplied and spread. From candle to candle the flame passed throughout the year until at last it kindled the wick of the candle standing in the silence and darkness of the chapel at three in the morning. That same flame will pass on to the next candle when the current one is completely consumed, a little bit of Easter to light the way. It is a portion of the Lumen Christi in our lives when everything else is in darkness. It dances about, pretending to go out at a moment’s notice; nevertheless, it will continue to burn until it has exhausted its supply of wax. It burns - it consumes our human misery and transforms it into the fire of divine love, giving light and warmth to others. If it was not there, we would be lost in complete darkness.
This fragment of the Easter fire is shrouded by a crystal case dyed red with the Blood of the Lamb - shed for us both in the Garden of Gethsemane when the God-Man trembled under the oppression of the darkness of sin and again when the Light of the Gentiles was lifted up and the world cloaked itself in darkness at the sight. Divine Wisdom knows our frame: He knows that we cannot bear the sight of His glory. Thus, He hides His light in His Sacred Humanity, in His pure blood taken from the Purest of Creatures. The Divine Flame enclosed Himself for nine months in complete darkness in Mary’s womb for this reason. The Easter flame is dyed red with His eternal Charity. It is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday rolled into one orb of red light glowing in a dark church; it is His Birth, His Hidden Life, and His Death represented in one flickering form. The Blood of the Sacrifice protects the flame of love from the wind that tries to extinguish it, and it protects us in our weakness.
The flame of love stands guard at the gate of the prison, where the Prisoner of Love waits and watches in the darkness for us. Yet, it does not keep us from Him, like a fearsome gatekeeper. No; rather, its dancing light beckons us to approach. At three in the morning, when we can’t see the tabernacle for the darkness, it tells us with concrete certainty that He is there. When our hearts are aching and heavy and cannot feel any consolation, it tells us to believe that He is there listening to us, feeling the heartbreak that we feel, and loving us with an infinite love. When we cannot see the path forward, it tells us that He is there, treading the path before us and leading us by the hand. Small though it may be, its light pierces the darkness, warding off the evil that tries to weigh us down and guiding us towards that One True Light. It is a faithful friend that tells us to take heart and believe in our Father’s House.
What a little light is a sanctuary lamp, but what a great consolation. It is always present near the tabernacle, a little glow of God’s Charity near the abode of His Son. If our hearts are tabernacles, are we not also meant to be a light for others - to shine forth God’s love for our fellow wayfarers so that they may have at least a little light to guide their feet to their Father’s house? How can we, then, be the sanctuary lamp to those left in the darkness?