Skip to comments.The Sermons That Walked
Posted on 08/14/2005 7:32:46 AM PDT by sionnsar
On our way to our new home in Pennsylvania to take up a teaching position at Trinity Episcopal School For Ministry, we stopped overnight in a small town in the Susquehana Valley. I got up early knowing there must be an 8 AM in the local parish. It was a beautiful stone Church, Norman on the outside with a Gothic set up on the inside. The priest was away and a very competent laywoman led Morning Prayer to a handful of elderly parishioners. The parish was well kept and everything spoke as in so many of our churches of the faithful remanant who have maintained the faith and the buildings as both custom and demographics have left once booming parishes languishing in faded glory.
Sitting in the pew (which is a novel experience for me) looking at the modern touches to the old building which spoke of the reverence and care of the congregation I nevertheless was aware of how the movement for liturgical renewal of which the 1979 Prayer Book is a product has ended up thwarting the walking sermon that was built into the traditional nave and sanctuary architecture of so many of our churches.
The typical Gothic setup of so many of our buildings with a large Nave of pews and an high Altar separated by a Sanctuary with a choir from the Nave has as its Biblical point of reference the Book of Hebrews. The floor plan of the deep Sanctuary separated from the Nave, sometimes with a rood screen, speaks of the transcendance and awesomeness of God and of the gulf that separates us who are not holy from all holiness and of the gulf that separates the creature from the creator. We come and listen to the Gospel of salvation proclaimed. We make our confession and because of Christ and His sacrifice we are reconciled to God. Then the Eucharist is celebrated and in Him and with and through Him we are able to go boldly into the Holy of Holies.
There then comes that walking sermon. We get up and we approach the Holy of Holies. We not only touch that which has heretofore been untouchable, we feed upon Him, so that we might live in Him and He in us. Often in that long walk up the aisle of the Nave and up the steps into the sanctuary and often up some additional steps to the rail at the High Altar we would walk across striking images of the Christian life. At St. Johns Church in Stamford on the floor between the choir stalls in the sanctuary, coming and going from the place where the rail was before liturgical renewal, you would walk across mosaics of the theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Love. For years I stared every Sunday morning at the burning heart that was the icon of love which was located just in front of my stall. In the old days every communicant would have seen and pondered these images every Sunday, would have walked over them as they re-enacted the book of Hebrews and so to speak on Christs coat tails went boldly into throne of grace and then returned walking in the new life.
I entered the priesthood when celebration facing the people was a norm well established and when most of the old churches had already been refitted. On those rare occasions when I am in a place where the altar is still fixed to the wall I have to go very deliberately in order not to put a foot wrong. My autopilot is set for facing liturgical West. I like it. But I wonder after all these years if there is not a kind of vandalism in so deliberately violating both the theological and artistic intention of these absolutely great churches which our forebears have left us. Of this there can be no doubt. We have lost the Book Of Hebrews. We have also lost the physical formation and the kinetic understanding of the faith that the original architecture intended. Protestantism is a theological movement about essential theological concepts and for all its strengths can have the weakness of being nothing but talking heads. We need to know the good news of salvation not only intellectually but in our bodies and bones. We need to act it out and act it in. The old architecture had a genuis about that and it is a grace that there is the odd church here and there with the altar still up against the wall and with that long trip to the rail high up in the sanctuary where one can experience the sacrifical love of Christ which at great cost brings us who are far off near and experience it down to our toes. We need not only new ideas but to go to a new place and come back changed.
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The comment is very well taken: we DO this in anamnesis of Him, we do not SAY it. And that is what distinguishes a Protestant from a Catholic: Protestants rely solely upon the Word and the service is SAID. Catholics rely upon both the Word and the Sacrifice and the service is DONE (with words to go with).
Gosh, I wish I understood what you said. It sounded so ---- well, meaningful, except I don't get it. At all.
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