Light and Darkness:carol services in the run up to Christmas

Three Carol Services marked the end of term. Students from the Christian Union held a service in the Great Hall, with music from the Gospel Choir and plenty of mince pies before and after. The Medics came to Holy Trinity Prince Consort Road for their service bringing with them their own choir, chamber choir and orchestra. Well over 300 staff and students attended the traditional 6 lessons and carols (yes, I know that it is supposed to be nine lessons but that really can drag). There is a real community feel to the School of Medicine Carol Service with students, academics and administrative staff sharing the readings and members of the Rowing Club standing at the back singing with male gusto at the end of an afternoon of other celebrations.

A few days later we held the College Carol Service with another 300  people gathering in Holy Trinity. In both services we start at the back of Church in darkness with the choir singing an Advent chant. Advent is the time of preparation in the four weeks before Christmas and it has a kind of feel to  like keeping watch in darkness beside someone very ill or at a night vigil for justice. We then take a light from the great Easter candle the symbol of hope and resurrection. This is passed to the people on the back rows who light their own candles and then in turn pass it forward. Gradually the light is given and received throughout the congregation. It is an action that I remembered seeing as a student at the Taize Community in France. There it is part of the Saturday night service (and they borrowed it from the Russian Orthodox practice of marking Good Friday and Easter Day each weekend of the year). I love the action of sharing lights – it requires both receiving and giving. It is all very obvious in one sense but it is worth being reminded that we are all sharing in a life much greater than our own – whether we see this in either a religious or humanist sense. And of course the lights have to be held with care, nurtured almost, if they are to stay alight through the service.