Sunday, October 21, 2007

Church and Communion Thoughts

I was a substitute Sunday School teacher today in the "upper grades" room. Our attendance is so small that 4th through 8th grades are lumped together-----there were six kids there. Our lesson was about Moses and the burning bush, from Exodus chapters 2-4. The kids took turns reading the story from the Bible, and I tried to spark some discussion here and there. At the end of classtime we had a litany prayer.......I asked each child to say a sentence, such as "Dear Lord, thank you for my family", etc., and after each one spoke we all said, "Lord, hear our prayer", in unison. The kids seemed shy to say anything-----typical of Lutherans!

During the church service, we sang the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" for the third Sunday in a row! Pastor must really like it. Did I mention that this hymn was often sung in the Baptist church I grew up in, but we have only now begun to sing it here in our Mo-Synod Lutheran church, because it is in our new hymnal, The Lutheran Service Book. I should inform Pastor that its a Baptist hymn......then he would probably quit putting it in the service!

Today being the third Sunday of the month meant that our church service included Communion.....or the Sacrament of the Altar. The confessional Lutherans make a huge deal of it, and that's only right, I'm sure. But, I have some gripes which have been with me since I joined the Lutheran church many years ago. For Communion, we congregants have to traipse up the middle aisle in groups of eight, stand there in the aisle and wait our turn to go up to the Communion rail. Pastor has to take the time to say to each one of us, "The blood of Christ given for you." I know he wants everyone to look at the wafer as he says those words, but I have never done that. It seems right to keep my head bowed. To be symbolically correct, we should probably have the wafer put right on our tongue, but we hold out our hand to take it, thank goodness. I would not feel comfortable opening my mouth for the wafer to be placed on my tongue by the pastor. No, thank you. Actually, to be totally symbolically correct, the pastor should probably pry our mouths open to put the wafer in, since sinners are unable to do anything on their own to receive God's grace.

Honestly, I have never cared for the Communion process here at the Lutheran church. Usually, my main concern is, "Is my hair sticking I walking to the correct side of the rail......I don't want to do anything wrong". In the early years, I would worry about being the lead person of my group of eight, in case I might turn the wrong way and lead them astray! Needless to say, often I wasn't thinking at all about the true meaning of Communion as I downed the wafer and wine. (It may not matter anyway.....what you're thinking about, that is.) And then you have to walk in front of everyone again to go back to your seat. I just don't care for it. I don't watch the other communicants as they walk up to the altar and back, and I hope everyone returns the favor and doesn't watch me either.

In the Baptist church, the ushers would pass the little plates of bread pieces and grape juice to the congregation in the pews. Once everyone had their bread, Pastor would speak the Words of Institution and everyone would eat their bread at the same time. Ditto for the grape juice. To me that was more meaningful in a way than all the traipsing around we do in the Lutheran Communion service. If our church ever goes to weekly communion, I hope they figure out a different way to do things.

Today we sat in the balcony, so I couldn't have watched anyone even if I'd wanted to. The lovely stained-glass windows over the altar were all I could see. Three tall pointed windows, the middle one being the tallest, all facing the eastern morning sunlight. The design looks almost like a luminous quilt pattern, little triangles and squares of red, blue, green, gold, purple. Near the top of the middle window is a circle containing a gold Communion chalice. The window to the left has a circle with a golden sheaf of wheat in it, and the right window's circle contains a cluster of purple grapes. I've always considered them amazingly beautiful windows. Some sunny morning I should take my camera there and get some photos. As long as I can sit there and contemplate the beauty and meaning in those windows, annoyances in sermons and chanting are tolerable.

Our church building is quite old, having been built in 1873. The windows described above were installed in the 1960's, however, during a remodeling project. The other stained-glass windows, tall ones on either side of the sanctuary, are from the original construction, I think. It's truly a lovely old church building, built to accomodate the large farm families in this neighborhood in the late 1800's. Since that time, farming has changed drastically, along with family sizes, meaning that many empty pews are in view during church services.
Sometimes I wonder how long we can survive as a congregation.

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