Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) This profound declaration shapes a central practice in our worship at Court Street UMC: the lighting of candles. But why do we light candles, and what is the history behind this ritual?

The Presence of the Light

The light carried by the acolyte into the worship service symbolizes Jesus entering into our midst. This act serves as a vivid reminder that Christ is with us, illuminating our lives and guiding our worship. The presence of the light on the altar points to Jesus’ dual nature: both fully human and fully divine.

Lighting the Candles

In the United Methodist Church, we have two candles on the altar, each representing a significant aspect of Jesus Christ:

  • The Human Jesus (Gospel Candle): This candle, placed on the left side of the altar, symbolizes Jesus’ humanity.
  • The Divine Jesus (Epistle Candle): Positioned on the right side, this candle represents Jesus’ divinity.

The Gospel candle on the left is never to burn alone, emphasizing that Jesus’ humanity and divinity are inseparable. Therefore, the Epistle candle is lit first and extinguished last. When the Paschal Candle is present, it takes precedence and is lit first and extinguished last.


As part of our tradition, it is proper to genuflect before the cross when the Holy Eucharist is on the altar. At other times, bowing before the cross shows our reverence and respect.

Extinguishing the Candles

At the end of the service, the light carried out by the acolyte symbolizes Jesus going out into the world. This act reminds us that we are called to carry the light of Christ into our everyday lives, serving and sharing His love with all people. Facing the altar, the divine Jesus candle on the right is extinguished last, again emphasizing the importance of Jesus’ divinity. If the Paschal Candle is present, it is extinguished last.

Picture of candles and altar at court street UMC downtown Lynchburg Virginia

A Historical Perspective

The use of candles in Christian worship dates back to ancient times, serving both practical and symbolic purposes. Originally, candles provided light in darkened church buildings. Over time, their symbolism grew, representing the light of Christ shining in the darkness of the world. The ritual of lighting and extinguishing candles has been refined through centuries, now carrying deep theological significance in our worship practices.


Our use of candles in our worship service is more than tradition; it is a meaningful ritual that connects us to the light of Jesus Christ. As we light and extinguish these candles, we are reminded of His presence among us and our mission to bring His light into the world.

We invite you to reflect on this symbolism the next time you see the candles being lit or extinguished in our service. May it deepen your worship experience and inspire you to carry Christ’s light into your daily life.

Check out our recent blog posts, including our exciting website update, for more insights into our worship practices and the latest updates.

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