“Bring Your Heart to the Altar”
The Living Church, September 18, 2016
This was the title of an article in the most recent edition of The Living Church, and it had to do with all of the various liturgical ministers and how people in those roles could keep from falling into a rut. One of the beautiful things about the Episcopal church are the rhythms of the year: the patient but active waiting of Advent; the all too-short joy of Christmas; the proclamation and renewal of Epiphany; the self-examination and penitence of Lent; the unbounded joy and new life of Easter; and our continual working out how to grow as disciples during Ordinary Time. There are ups and downs, fits and starts, periods of excitement and periods of boredom. These rhythms keep us on track, keep us focused on our Lord, and help us avoid becoming a passing fad or the Church of What's Happening Now.
But, besides allowing us to experience the year in rhythm, besides allowing us to become lost in the familiarity of it all, it can seem as if we do the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year, with no real change at all. We run the risk of seeing these rhythms as a rut.
Members of the altar guild might see their service as chores. Acolytes might see their role as a place the adults put children to stay out of the way. Lectors might see their role as unimportant because what they read is rarely the subject of a sermon. And the list goes on.
But these roles – altar guild, acolyte, lector, and others – are not just something devised to keep people busy on Sunday. These roles are an integral and vital part of how this branch of Christianity worships God. The altar guild isn't simply washing dishes and doing laundry, they are prayerfully making preparation for people to worship God in the beauty of holiness. Acolytes aren't there to make the sanctuary look impressive or to give parents hope that they won't misbehave, they are there to help the great drama and mystery of the Holy Eucharist unfold before our eyes. Lectors don't read lessons so that the people can hear another voice other than the priest's, they help draw us into the stories of God's people in a way that allows the Bible to become alive and meaningful.
Another risk we face is in seeing only the visible, vested people as “liturgical ministers.” Never forget that the question, “Who are the ministers of the Church?” in our Catechism is answered thus: “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” On Sunday morning, everyone is a liturgical minister, and everyone has an integral and vital role to perform. So instead of asking, “What do I get out of church?” we might want to consider asking, “What might God be getting out of my participation in worship?”
This Sunday, how might you bring your heart to the altar?