Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Why is the Gospel being Read in the Midst of the Congregation?"

On Reformation Sunday this year something different happened when it came to the pastor reading the Holy Gospel. Pastor Herman, Bible in hand, followed the processional cross and the altar candles down the center aisle into the center of the congregation. "Why this new Gospel procession?"
Processions into the church and recessions out of the church were observed on special worship days since earliest times. The "mini-parade" with the reading of the Gospel has been documented back to the fifth century. Martin Luther spoke of the importance of recognizing the presence of Jesus Christ in the reading of the holy Gospel. "For the preaching of the Gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him." (Luther's Works 35:121)
As we recognize, by faith, that Christ is present during the service, especially in his words from the Gospel, we are dramatically reminded in the Gospel procession the fact revealed by the Holy Spirit through Saint John the Evangelist: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14a)
Processions get our attention and focus it upon important things: Christ and his Word come to save us. This is why we as a congregation stand in reverence as the words of our Lord are read, either from the lecturn in the front of the church or from the middle aisle in the midst of his baptized people.
In the same way that making the sign of the cross and processions at the beginning and end of the service communicate to little children the festive and grand nature of divine worship, so Gospel processionals are great opportunities for us as a congregation to teach and model Christ's redeeming presence among us through his Word -- his Word with water (Baptism), his Word with bread and wine (the Lord's Supper) and his Word as it comes to us in the reading of the Holy Gospel.