From the Rector...
Like the Face of an Angel
Dear Faithful of St. Luke's Church,
Recently, I gave a sermon that focused on Saint Stephen and the special ministry of ordained deacons. Stephen was one of the first deacons in the Church. He is also held up as the very first martyr. Two entire chapters in the Acts of the Apostles are devoted to Stephen. In reading through this account, I came upon a curious statement. Stephen is called before the religious council due to accusations of heretical teachings. Acts reports that "All in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15).
I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again: I continue to be immensely impressed by the spiritual atmosphere of our worship services each and every Sunday. Furthermore, when worshipers come to the altar rail for communion or a blessing I see faces like the face of an angel. By this I mean the prayerfulness of congregants radiates from their countenance: They are aglow with faith. I might add, I feel quite privileged to be in such a position to witness such a phenomenon!
Spiritual deepening is a top priority for St. Luke's Church. To this end, last year during the Season of Advent I introduced a new ritual at The Offertory, which I called "Making a Holy Offering at the Altar." This entailed leaving the pew and walking our contributions forward to the Altar. The idea is that our financial contributions to the Church essentially are gifts to God in response to our gift from God of His Son, Jesus Christ. To the extent that we have experienced the love of Jesus Christ in our life, then in thanksgiving for this we bring our gift forward, all the way to the Altar.
Rituals (i.e., liturgy) lie at the heart of Episcopal worship. We Episcopalians literally enact our prayers, as well as say and sing them. The prayer we enact at the Offertory is a prayer of thanksgiving. As we process upward and place our gift on the Holy Altar we pray essentially, "Thank you, God, for the gift of your Son and our New Life in Christ."
As we enacted this ritual and I watched worshippers processing to the altar, I thought to myself, "It's like a mini-pilgrimage." At the same time, I witnessed faces like the face of an angel, and I sensed an atmosphere of spirituality full of faith and gratitude.
After Advent we returned to the usual practice of "passing the plate," which, I should note, is not a liturgical act. Worshipers remain passive during this period while ushers perform a practical function. In Lent we reintroduced this ritual. Now Deacon Marc and I believe the time has come to establish this ritual as a permanent feature of our Sunday service. So beginning on Sunday, September 7, and every Sunday following, at the Offertory we will "walk in love" to the altar -- with faces like that of an angel -- and thus we will indeed "walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).