Sunday, August 25, 2013

That All Generations Shall Call the Altar-Guild Blessed

So over at Gottesdienst Online (Thursday August 22, 2013), the Rev. Father Burnell F.  Eckhart, Jr.  stoutly asserts  that the Altar Guild is “the most important group in a Christian congregation.   It is the first group to which any new pastor should pay attention. More important than the board of elders or trustees; even more important than the church council itself is the altar guild.”

At the risk of stirring the progeny of Karlstadt and Vehse to further deeds of historical mayhem, cowardly vigilantism and the counting-of-collars as something of real note, I am convinced that the good father is absolutely correct.  God’s Presence far transcends in importance the work of brushes, hot water boilers, ballots, and certainly of axes taken to church statues.  That Presence may be overlooked within the  modern Lutheran nave by the chatting, the latte-swilling, the snoring and the spiritually arthritic in this our Age of Grace; but this does not in any way negate the Reality of Emmanu-El desiring to come to His sanctuary.  Those who recognize such Reality are blessed beyond measure.  And so, the Lutheran pastors are and will be blessed to help the layfolk to open their eyes and see the Reality there on the Altar; to come to revere, adore and love the Presence who has given us His all, for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.   
The duties of the Altar Guild predate the dawn of the Christian Pentecost and a subsequent Voters' Assembly; such Guild’s inspiration and guide were in evidence at the stark foot of the cross on Good Friday, and on early Easter morn (Jn 19:38-42; Mark 16:1-4).  
Often taken for granted as but a kind of "mop-up" expeditionary force, the Altar Guild is a grand thing.  The important task of looking after the saving body and blood of our Lord has kindled a courage and love in men and women to confront the butcher Pilate over a spent and wearied Body; to cradle, cleanse and incense the battered Lord’s Presence, and to focus on Him so very intently that a large stone blockading the sepulcher … not to mention that burly Roman squadron on active duty … was but a forgotten meme, for a while.
If today's Lutherans are actually true to their so easily voiced beliefs, then the fair linens, the Corpora and the Pall must not be taken lightly … for Lord Christ Himself did not do so.  In Mt 23:20ff, He identifies the Altar and “all things thereon (Authorized Version)” with the very God of very God.   Physical materials which touched the body of our Lord could heal; and indeed, many with divers diseases importuned the Christ to simply clutch His garments, for their relief.  Rest assured, this is not the stuff of medieval legend or popish superstition; for inspired Scripture goes on to relate that “and as many as touched [the hem] were made perfectly whole” (Mt 14:38).
The Altar Guild deals with holy things, the touching things which are no more profane than the “handkerchiefs or aprons” secured from the body of St. Paul; the touching things which the cloud of witnesses says dispelled disease and cast out demons (Acts 19:12).  There is, of course, no guarantee that the fair linens will render physical cures to suffering Lutherans.   Scripture is abundantly clear that “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:12; Authorized Version), through means of his servant's humble apparel.  Special miracles, please note here … events soaring far beyond what was already beyond ordinary expectations.  We beggarly rascals have no right to order God's will to meet our fancies.
It is enough then, perhaps, that the local Altar Guild comes to fully treasure as holy what God Himself treasures … what Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James treasured … to honor our gracious Father, through the honoring of His Son’s crucified Presence, so that we His people and Church may live long on this earth. 
And most especially miraculous, to live and commune in that new heaven and new earth which is to come; and to exist perfectly whole and fully embodied throughout all of eternity with our God face-to-face, as Promised.    

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