E is for Eternal Flame

What is that dim red light shining through the window of that country church? Is it an exit sign? Did someone leave a light on? More likely than not, it is the eternal flame.

The eternal flame (also known as sanctuary lamp, altar lamp, everlasting flame, or chancel lamp) is a candle or lamp, usually enclosed in red glass, that is left lighted in the sanctuary of a church at all times. In Protestant churches, this always-present flame and light signifies the constant presence of Christ.

This practice of a sacred, eternal fire is found in many religions and cultures. For the Christian church, we lean into our Jewish roots for this practice as we read in the Old Testament (Exodus 27:20-21) that God told Moses a lamp should permanently burn in the Tabernacle.

Some congregations have the practice of extinguishing the eternal flame only when the altar is stripped on Maundy Thursday or as part of the Tenebrae service on Good Friday while others do not. This is left to local context and understanding.

What is your church’s practice surrounding the eternal flame? Does your church have an eternal flame?  Is it attached to a wall or hanging from the ceiling?

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