Some of the stories I share are based on various real events from various places which are combined and told in a way to make a point, not to report exactly what happened or where. This is one of them.
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In an amalgamations-of-memories church I’ll call “Amalgam Reformed,” on Lord’s Supper Sunday, having entered the worship space, a regular attender could immediately know — just from seeing the front of the worship space — something different was going to happen today. The normally near-bare table at the front was instead draped in a white cloth with lumps under it showing there were objects there. Another sign today was different came when the Elders paraded into church single file behind the pastor. They were dressed better than the Friday office-casual that was standard Sunday wear– they were in suits & ties. Plus, instead of sitting with their families as usual, they would march to the front and sit there.
These are the kinds of things that happened each communtion Sunday that followed. But something stood out that first time I experienced it. When the service came to the song before communion, a holy hush fell like a blanket on the congregation. At the end of the song, two of the suited Elders would come up to the table, and as the accompaniment faded to noise cancelling silence these Elders meticulously made the “Big Reveal” of what was under the cloth. Breathing was abated as the cloth was folded in a manner similar to the way the military has a procedure for folding flags. Silent, serious solemnity hung over the actual revealing of the elements of communion. It really caught my attention, that first time. Such reverence seemed fitting for other events in the worship, such as the explanations of the meaning of the bread and cup, or the partaking of them, but, “The Big Reveal” seemed to be extra serious and sacred. I was very intrigued.
So, later, in a meeting, the Elders were asked why this was done that way. “Is there a reason the reveal was so hushed and holy? Does the reveal have unique theological and/or spiritual significance for this congregation?”
The consented-by-nods response was “Never thought about it, that is just how we’ve always done it.” I remember being very disappointed. I had put high expectations on hearing a report of a sermon they once heard about the revealing of God’s gift of bread and cup for mankind, or even more creatively, one of association between the cloth and grave clothes being thrown off. No one had a deeper answer beyond “We do it that way because it adds to the special feeling of it all.”
So we dug back in history together. The question was asked of them: “when the first church building was built in the early 1900s, was it well sealed and airtight?“
The answer was “no” and stories began to tumble out about memories of open windows to try get a breeze in summer, and of stuffing bulletins in cracks to stop cold drafts in winter.
“When the original church was built, what was the next building over?”
The eventual answer, after a few next over farms were named and a reminder was given that it was closer than that was “The horse stable.”
“What byproducts come with having horses nearby on hot days?”
“Manure, smells, and flies.” came the responses.
And as this question was asked some recognition begins to show on faces. A few begin to chuckle. “You mean this cloth started out as a practical thing to keep the flies off and we’ve made it into a sacred moment?”
“You mean this cloth started out as a practical thing to keep the flies off and we’ve made it into a sacred moment?”
“Yes, and how long has it been since you saw flies in church?
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This pretty true to life story is to me a very good example of why we need to make it a habit in the church to re-examine the meaning of most of the things we do and the way we do them, otherwise we leave for our children mere patterns of behaviour that they might simply repeat even when the original purpose is lost. This is true whether the original meaning was practical or theological.