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The Eternal Flame

My wife says I’m a pyromaniac. She may be right. Any time a box of matches or a lighter is within arm’s reach, I have to make fire. I love having my own little Castaway moment, where Tom Hanks, stranded on a remote island, finally succeeds in making fire using basic friction. In his words: “I have made fire! I have made fire!”

I’m not sure where my fascination with fire comes from, but I think it’s a fairly primal instinct. I love the mystery of the flame: its color, its movement; its power to produce light and heat all at once. There’s nothing like it. Some of my fondest memories are with friends around a campfire, where we hover like moths, keeping warm in the cool of the night, transfixed by the light amidst darkness, talking for hours. Fire seems to foster warmth, comfort and authenticity, whether it be the campfire or a romantic candlelight dinner.

During this most recent Easter holiday, my church used fire to symbolize the light of Christ. We all held candles symbolizing Christ’s presence in our lives. Transfixed by the beauty, the warmth and the power of the flame, we all were held visible, tangible reminders of Christ’s continuing presence. I love the Easter season. Its use of fire is incredible. Beginning with ashes (Ash Wednesday) and ramping up to resurrection Sunday (the season many refer to as Lent), a spark of sorts is struck within us, and that spark grows and grows into a raging flame on Easter Sunday.

I was in Jerusalem for Easter a few years back, and the church in the Old City, the Holy Sepulcher (which marks the most probable spot of Jesus’ death and burial) has a Holy Fire ceremony. It all starts with a single flame, on a candle held by a priest and spreads to the crowds filling the church and overflowing into the streets. The flame of Christ is passed on and one until it’s raging throughout the city, a powerful, symbolic celebration of Christ’s light in the world.

But the Easter season has come and gone. The candles have been blown out and tossed in the dumpster. The jubilee, the hams, the bunny, the eggs (a weird combo) are all gone. We’ve spent the past month ramping up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. But now that the fervor of Easter is over and the jubilee subsided, what’s next? Do we sink back into programmatic faith, with the typical Sunday morning services, weekly Bible studies, mundane young adult “activities”?

But our human nature tells us to take a breather. We can’t keep a fire raging forever, right? All fires die out at some point. I mean, living it up like it’s Easter every single day isn’t all that practical or possible. So what do we do?

The answer can be found in the encounter of Christ and the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). I’m struck just as much by what happens here, after the resurrection, as I am with the resurrection itself. Two of Jesus’ followers had just seen the empty tomb for themselves and were trying to figure out how their dead rabbi disappeared. They were on a seven-mile jaunt from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus, mulling over the possibilities, when Jesus strolled onto the scene (his ears must have been “burning”). The two didn’t recognize him, yet they struck up a conversation with the unknown Jesus, who showed the two the Scriptural significance of all that had happened that fateful weekend. The disciples were so blown away that they felt compelled to feed him and house him for the night in hopes of learning more.

So dinner began, and as soon as Jesus blessed the meal, the two finally recognized who he was, and then he vanished again! After this more recent vanishing act, the two didn’t first talk about Jesus’ Houdini act. They didn’t extrapolate its theological implications. They referred back to their encounter with the unknown Jesus on the road: “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32, NASB).

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Giving my pyromaniac leanings, it should be no surprise that this verse speaks to me. The Easter season, with its drama, its roller coaster of emotions, doesn’t necessitate a depressive post partum aftermath. The resurrection assures an eternal flame, as an encounter with Jesus on the road of life creates a burning within our hearts.

Typically I shy away from using “heart” language. It seems trite, and the phrase “Jesus came into my heart” is so overplayed that it now seems void of any meaning. But here I can’t escape it. Encountering the living Christ creates a burning within our hearts that allows us to understand the archaic, often confusing collection of writings we call the Bible. A fresh perspective on Scripture is presented to us, and it actually can make some sense to our own life. This gives me some hope. I have trouble encountering Christ when I relegate him to a ten-minute morning devotional (I’m not a morning person). But I like the idea of encountering him on the road of life, giving me a theology of the street that I can actually understand and use.

So I’m going to keep playing with fire, despite my wife’s teasing. I’m going to fan the flame that has been placed within me, living it up like it’s Easter as much as possible, opening the Scriptures to find the truth that it contains for the here and now. There’s a burning within me, and it’s not the three bean enchiladas churning in my stomach from dinner. It’s an eternal flame, a burning within my heart to encounter the living Jesus on the road of life. Will you light it up? Will you foster the pyromaniac within you?

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