Wednesday, July 16, 2014
While the United Methodist Church is a denomination with an "altar tradition," it is also true that they could get pulled up, thrown out, and no one would ever miss them. Altars define and declare holy space, but were it not for Holy Communion, no one would be kneeling at them. And, sadly enough, expediency has in many places robbed people of that final reason for kneeling in church. I remember a lot of altars in my past. I spent a lot of time there growing into my faith and still believe there is great spiritual value in regular visits to kneel before the Almighty. Altars are meant to be used. Preachers do the people entrusted to them a great spiritual disservice by not finding ways to invite folks to come and kneel for prayer.
Maybe it is true that folks today have outgrown such a need. Maybe it is true that we have gotten too sophisticated to actually go up to the front of a filled sanctuary and kneel. Maybe some folks think it lends itself to a kind of showy spirituality. Maybe all of this is true. Maybe today preachers simply do not think there is value in a congregation kneeling before God in such a public arena. Maybe someone will get offended, or feel that prayer is too personal a matter to do around an altar filled with other squirming sinners. Maybe this, too, is true.
It is just hard for this old preacher to understand why anyone would not want to use an altar. It is one of the places I learned to pray. It is one of the places where by the grace of God serious life changing soul work was done. It is the only place left in our world where it is permissible to kneel before someone. Maybe, it is not necessary to kneel before someone, but how about the Someone who is the Almighty God of the creation? And, just maybe there is value in kneeling. No, surely there is value in bowing ourselves at an altar before God. There is no place like it in our culture. There is no place where we can be encouraged to humble ourselves and look up knowing who we are and who it is to Whom we are kneeling and bowing.