I think the prevalence of modern artificial light sources in our world sometimes impedes the
richness of what it means to call Jesus “the Light of the world.” Even in 1925, only half of the
homes in the United States had electricity for light. For the vast majority of human history, if you
wanted light in the darkness, you either needed the sun or you needed fire.
Some of the more obvious qualities of fire are rich for application about what it means to know
Jesus. Fire burns hot. While it can be handled safely, there is still a need for great caution in its
use. The light from a flame illuminates what we want to see clearly, but in doing so it may also
reveal what had been kept in darkness intentionally.
Though I have limited knowledge of Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), I have found some of his
insights meaningful about the fire of God’s presence, especially in light of the Lord’s Supper. In
one of his hymns, Ephrem picks up on the familiar story in Isaiah 6 about Isaiah’s dilemma.
Isaiah had a heart for serving God, but was also aware of his unworthiness. Using tongs from
the altar, one of the Seraphim took a burning coal and touched Isaiah’s lips and purify him for
God’s purposes. Ephrem notes:
The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers.
It only touched the mouth of Isaiah.
[The Seraph] did not hold it, and [Isaiah] did not eat it.
But to us our Lord has given both.
(Hymns on Faith 10:10)
Apart from that difficult passage in I Corinthians 11, I don’t think I have much thought of
Communion as an inherently dangerous activity. Ephrem would challenge us to consider the
gravity of being able to receive the presence of Christ within us and surviving. What the Seraph
could not touch and what Isaiah could not consume–the presence of God–we consume in the
bread and the wine. Yet what ought to kill us instead invigorates us. It’s a divine mystery!
People will always have an uncomfortable relationship with the revealing effects of intense light.
Jesus indicated that many will prefer darkness for fear of their lives being seen for what they
are. But following Christ means coming into the light, and in so doing, also to become light
As many of us have sung at countless devotionals, we really do want God to light the fire in our
souls. We want to draw from God’s burning passion to seek out those who don’t know him. We
take seriously the sacred task of being God’s messengers, handling the fire of God’s word with
care. We remember our dire need for God’s purifying presence in our lives so we can be
counted worthy of the task. We step out into the darkness, holding the torch of God’s light,
trusting that God will reach those who are yearning for the warmth and clarity that God’s
presence will bring.