Some of the stories I share are stories 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.
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In an amalgamations-of-memories church I’ll name “Amalgam Reformed,”1 on Lord’s Supper Sunday, on entering the worship space, any regular attender could visually tell something different was going to happen. One could see the normally near bare table at the front which was draped in a white cloth. Another sign came when the Elders came into church behind the pastor. They were dressed better than the Friday office-casual that was the standard Sunday wear, they were in suits & ties. Instead of sitting with their families as usual, they would march to the front and sit there.
The service would begin, and then it would come to the song before communion. At the end of the song, two of the Elders would come up to the table, and as the accompaniment faded to silence a hush would fall over the congregation as these Elders meticulously made the “Big Reveal” of what was under the cloth. Breathing was abated as the cloth would be folded in a manner similar to the way the military has a procedure for folding flags. A serious solemnity would hang over the actual sharing of the elements of communion. Such Reverence seemed fitting for those other events in the worship. “The Big Reveal” seemed to be unduly serious and sacred.
So the Elders were asked why this and some other things were done. “What is the theological and/or spiritual significance of the reveal?” The significance of of other parts of the service were more obvious, and some were even explained, such as the taking of a piece of bread and of a bit of the fruit-of-the-vine as symbols of Christs body and blood sacrifice. But what of the removal of the cloth? No one had an answer beyond “We do it because it adds to the special feeling of it all.”
So we dug back in history together. The question was asked: “when the first church building was built, what was the next building over?”
The answer was “The horse stable”
“What byproducts come with having horses nearby?”
“Manure, smells, and flies.” came the responses.
“Was the first church building tightly sealed?”
And as this question was asked some recognition begins to show on faces. A few begin to chuckle. “You mean this started out as a practical thing to keep the flies off and we’ve made it into a sacred moment?”
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This 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 from time to time, otherwise we leave for our children mere patterns of behaviour that they might simply repeat even when the purpose is lost. Seems a good thing to reflect on as Reformation Day approaches on the calendar.
1This story is an amalgamation of experiences from several different churches