Pentecost Communion at the Altar: Historical and Spiritual Perspectives

Join us for a historical expression of a timeless reality this Pentecost!

Christ’s Church at Lowhill is an historic church; next year marks our 250th anniversary, and our current sanctuary is 150 years old. But we also strive to be a church community that looks to entrench itself in the future to which God is calling. We’re learning together how to blend traditional and modern expressions and understandings of Christian worship and spiritual depth.

This Sunday, which is also Pentecost, we’ll be sharing Communion together. In and of itself, that’s not out of the ordinary, especially for a special day on the church calendar. What is different, though, is how we’ll be sharing the Lord’s Supper together. Rather than reinvent the sharing of the sacrament, we’re going to be doing something very, very traditional; something that hasn’t been done at Lowhill in many, many years.

Harkening back to practices from the long life of our church, we’ll be receiving Communion at the altar railing this Sunday. We hope that participating in this practice helps each of us understand a greater depth of meaning in the shared meal, or, perhaps, a more personal connection with the God we meet in bread and cup.

Altar railings are, themselves, a product of the Protestant Reformation. They were designed in part to mark off sacred altar space from the sanctuary in general, according to prevailing theological sentiments of the time or of a particular local church. For many Christians, the “otherness” of sacred space is an important aspect of the experience of worship.  Other Christians understand all space as sacred, and therefore have tended away from the use of altar rails. Here at Lowhill, somewhere along the line, an architectural and spiritual compromise seems to have been struck. Our altar rails are low and permeable, meant, I think, to suggest that while the kingdom of God is here in nascent, growing form, it’s not entirely here yet. Even so, there are very real places and times and experiences in which heaven meets earth. Jesus himself is the ultimate expression of this truth. Our altar rails, which once wrapped around the entire altar space but were scaled back in the 20th century to allow open access to the table, seem to suggest both the present nature of the kingdom and our access to it, and the not-yet complete work of Jesus’ mission and prayer, that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Pentecost itself is a seminal moment in the building of the kingdom of God here among us. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church, and as we look with anticipation to the Spirit’s clear call in the present and for the future God is calling us to build.

Blessings!

Pastor Chris