Symbols and Meaning
Have you ever wondered why I do something the way I do, or have you ever been to another church where they did something you were curious about? I encourage you to ask the question in the comment section of the Facebook post where this blog appears. If you are too shy, email me or send me a letter and I will answer accordingly.
Now, to continue from Sunday.
We know the first portion of our service is called the “Gathering.” Here we are welcomed into the church by the pastor and the prelude, preparing us for the start of worship. Then we are invited by the sound of the bell, an ancient tradition, to stand and face the font. Now note this, we are invited to do so, not required. Please know that “required” is very rarely the words used, so some may choose to continue to face forward and that is OK!
We either jointly confess to God at this moment or we give thanksgiving for our baptism. Both of which are rich with baptismal imagery and theology.
I refer you to the bulletin from Sunday to see many of the notes. You can also click here to bring up a copy should you like to see some of the notes from the service.
I have been asked, “pastor, why do you wear that!?” Well, that can be a bunch of things from the white robe (alb), to the colorful thing over my shoulders (stole), or the poncho (chasuble).
An alb is a long white tunic or robe. It can find its roots most likely to the first century where it was adopted to wear during the Eucharist. It can be worn by both ordained and non-ordained (lay) people. Many will say that it is also a representation of the white gown that we wear in our baptism, white being a strong reminder of the resurrection of Jesus Christ - hence why we use white during Easter (more to come on all the colors). The alb is the assembly’s garment and all those leading are invited to put it on - that means anyone with a role in the service. Our crucifer wears one, the assisting minister wears one, and lectors are always welcome to wear one as well.
A stole is the band of color that you see pastors wearing over their shoulders. It has many potential meanings and symbols, the current most popular is that of a yoke - much like what we see on cattle. This imagery was used in the Gospel of Matthew 11:29-30. It is to help identify the ordained person.
Finally, the chasuble - which I understand is something a bit new for St. Stephen’s. This is the colorful poncho like garment that you see the pastor wearing. Its name comes from the word casula - a poncho garment that was worn by travelers around the Mediterranean. In 1 Peter 4:8 it is written that “above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” There is also the beautiful imagery of the prodigal son being wrapped in the garment of his father (which we know represents God wrapping us in God’s garment of love). With this in mind, it is used to represent the wrapping of the entire assembly in the arms of God and the embrace of the everlasting loving creator that has shown us such deep love and concern in the grace of Jesus Christ. This garment is only worn when we celebrate the Eucharist, since that is the commemoration of the love that Christ had for us all.
So what’s with all this color! Blue, white, red, green, purple…(taken from the ELCA’s worship formation and liturgical resources faq’s):
Advent: Blue is associated with Advent, suggesting hope. This association originated in Scandinavia, probably because purple dye was too expensive for churches to use. Some assemblies use purple in Advent, a color associated with royalty as the church awaits the newborn king. (note, this is a different meaning than when it is used in Lent; see below).
Christmas: White, calling to mind the purity of the newborn Christ, and to our light and joy in him. Some also use Gold.
Epiphany of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).
Baptism of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).
Sundays after the Epiphany: Green is used for its symbolism of our growth in Christ. Green, in a sense, is a "neutral color," used when more festive or more somber color is not appointed.
Transfiguration of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).
Ash Wednesday: Black is the preferred color, since it is the color of the ashes to which we will all return. Purple is the alternate color for this first day of Lent.
Lent: Purple is typically associated with Lent, suggesting repentance and solemnity. Sunday of the Passion: Scarlet is the preferred color of this first day of Holy Week, as it suggests the deep color of blood. (Scarlet is to be distinguished from the brighter color of red, which is appointed for the Day of Pentecost, martyrs’ days, and certain church celebrations). If a parish does not have scarlet vestments, purple may be used.
Days of Holy Week: Scarlet or purple may be used for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday: For this fourth day of Holy Week, celebrated as the institution of the Lord’s Supper, scarlet or white is used.
Good Friday: No vestments or paraments are used on this day, after the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday night.
Vigil of Easter: White or Gold suggests of joy in the Resurrection is used on this night.
Easter Day: Gold or white is suggested for this day. The gold color symbolizes that this day is the "queen of feasts," unique in the entire church year.
Sundays of Easter: White suggests the joy of the resurrection.
Day of Pentecost: Red as the color of fire is used on this day when we remember the tongues of fire descended on the crowd in Jerusalem. In contrast to the color of scarlet, Pentecost’s red is a bright color.
The Holy Trinity: White is suggested, the expression of joy in the mystery of the Triune God.
Other Sundays after Pentecost: Green is used, to indicate our growth in faith as we follow the teachings and ministry of Christ. Some assemblies use differing shades of green throughout the Sundays after Pentecost, a lighter green in summer and a darker green in fall.
Christ the King: The final day of the church year uses white, a festive color suggesting light, joy, and the celebration of our Lord.
So, as you can see there are symbols and meaning all around us. This Sunday we are going to celebrate Christ the King Sunday - the last day of the liturgical year. Then, we are going to enter into our Advent season, a season of anticipation, of joy and I pray a season of calm and contemplative time. Use the season to calm yourself as the world hurries towards Christmas, we can stop and pause and think about what the miracle of the birth of the Christ child will bring to us.
Yours in Christ,