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Jesus bids us shine

Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out.

This Saturday is the 466th anniversary of the burning at the stake – in Oxford – of the 50-year old Nicholas Ridley and the 70-year old Hugh Latimer. Whether Bishop Latimer actually said those words as he died, we shall not know in this life. If it was a prophecy, it seems to have been realized, in one way or another.

They were Cambridge men, of course: Latimer at Clare, Ridley at Pembroke. Both would have received their degrees in Great St Mary’s. They will have heard sermons there, disputed there, prayed there. And for what they believed, they went through the fire.

But why, if the story is true, did the burning Bishop of Worcester say ‘candle’? Candles are flimsy, and fragile. They don’t give off very much light, even the biggest and the best. What use is a candle in the midst of those flames?

In the King James Bible, the words of Jesus are rendered like this:

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

It’s straight from Tyndale’s translation of around about 1526, another who was burned, another who found himself caught up in the story of the early Reformation in this city.

Tyndale, like Latimer, says candle. The Greek word here is λύχνος. That’s lamp in my lexicon – but it is not a large lamp; it’s the lamp of the Tabernacle, of the menorah, a liturgical lamp; not designed to dazzle, but to illuminate, and to shine.

Shining is not always an easy option. But shining is your call, my call – to shine in such a way that those whom we meet are not dazzled by us, but are illuminated – the best that they are, and the beauty that they have, brought out by your gentle gleam.

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