A candle, a sermon, and a serendipitous discovery

It was pure happenstance that I stumbled upon the historic significance of this Easter Sunday for St. James.

I was working on my sermon for the Easter Vigil, and wanted to talk about the significance of the Paschal Candle, since it plays such an important role in our Easter Vigil rituals.

Last Easter, when I was still the curate at St. Thomas, I had the good fortune to find, buried deep within the bowels of the Altar Guild’s candle closet there, the remains of a 49-year-old Paschal Candle. Since St. Thomas had just bought a new wax Paschal Candle for the first time in many years, it seemed like a good artifact around which to link old and new. And thus a sermon was born.

This year, at a new parish with a different history and different customs, I wondered if I might be able to once again uncover some especially pertinent link to the past. Because, really, if ever you want to talk about history of a place, the Easter Vigil is the best time to do it. The vigil is nothing if not a night for stories from the past.

Surely, I thought, with all the emphasis we’ve placed recently on preserving our parish’s heritage, there’s got to be something lying around that just cries out to have its story told afresh. I found some old candles, but knew nothing of their story. Next, I was prepared to dig up some of the history of the statues in our chapel. But almost on a whim I decided first to look at some of the photo albums stored in one of the bookcases in the parish hall.

I flipped open the first album I pulled out, and there was a picture of our altar, adorned with Easter lilies. Then I read the caption: “First service in our beautiful new church, Easter 1967, March 26, 7 a.m.” With a jolt, I realized that was 50 years ago.

Then I came across the bulletin for the dedication of the new church building, held April 30, 1967, and in reading through it discovered that the first services in the old church building – now our parish hall – were on Easter 1957, 60 years ago.

A double anniversary. I’m grateful to have discovered this before it happened, rather than after the fact, so we could properly make note of the anniversary and celebrate it. And I’m beyond pleased that both Steve Driftmier – senior warden in 1967 – and Bob Snyder – on the vestry in 1967 – were here on Sunday to celebrate that milestone with us.

And I’m reminded, once again, that so many of the good things in our life are serendipitous. We may set out looking for one thing, but find another, far more precious than anything we could have asked for or imagined. I’m convinced we are surrounded by unseen blessings. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to discover them.