Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tending the Lamps

I canceled youth tonight because earlier this afternoon I felt like crap. Had a fever, which the woman who took Wesley for us this afternoon told her daughter is "sometimes God's way of saying to you--"You need some rest." That I did. I slept this afternoon for a good long while, and Lara called the youth who usually come to tell them to take the night off.
After resting, I felt much refreshed around the time we usually have youth, so I went over to make sure no one showed up who didn't get the message. While there, I went through the church turning off lights and marveling at the classrooms and recognizing God's work within a couple in particular which house thriving Sunday school classes. I ended up raising my hands and asking God to work to make the other classes stronger too, asking God to bless the pastor's office, and so forth. When I got into the sanctuary, I cleaned up the communion elements and made sure the candles were all out. We've recently started offering communion in the prayer chapel after every service. I just consecrate the elements before the hymn of invitation, then invite the congregation to come and partake if they will during the hymn of invitation or after the benediction. So far no one has come forward during the hymn of invitation, so maybe I'll stop including that in the times when people can come forward. Or perhaps I'll start having the elements prepared before the church service so people can go in before or after the service....hmmm. Anyway, I didn't ask our communion stewards to take responsibility for setting up for this quite yet because I wanted to only change a few things at a time.

Anyway, putting the elements in the yard for the birds and squirrels and all the benedicting before had put me in a priestly mood, so I also decided to tend the lamps. I had noticed one of our candles running low on oil, and also the sanctuary lamp in the prayer chapel had evidently gone out on its own (it's a 7 day lamp, but we only burn it when folks are in the building.) So I knew we needed to re-oil.

As I was doing so, it occurred to me that tending the lamps must have been a priestly Levitical duty because it is relaxing. It may be "God's way" of helping the priests get rest. I realize it was ascribed to the priesthood in a very different context than mine, and probably involved more than just grabbing the bottle of oil and making sure the wick wasn't sticking out to far, but for me this afternoon it was a blessing. I was always captivated by the idea that simple tasks such as preparing tea and washing the dishes seem to hold such attentiveness in Zen Buddhism. (Actually , the tea ceremony is a central ritual). Tending the lamps gives the priest the opportunity to be in the sanctuary, to check up on things, and to take care that the worship space of the congregation is being maintained and beautified. Maybe this is a pleasure that is prone to "delegating away" in most churches (my chair of trustees also keeps tabs on the amount of oil) but if you are in a ministry context where these kinds of tasks fall to you, the pastor, I'd suggest thinking of this kind of task being in the sphere of the priesthood.

* you may be surprised to see that this rural Oklahoma Methodist church has sanctuary lamps, but indeed we do, and they were here when I got here. (Not the one in the prayer chapel. That has been a project that I've been here for.) But for whatever reason, this church of Methodist/Baptist families has some high church DNA somewhere in it.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Yours is a great insight. I remember visiting a great church many years ago (one in Jerusalem, by the way!) and was stunned to see the priests "tending the lamps." There they were, high up on ladders changing lightbulbs, and I thought to myself..."I have 'people' who do that...glad I don't have to!'" But then, thinking more, I thought how haughty and stuffy I sounded! Why not do that? If they can do that here in Jerusalem, I can certainly do it back home in Arkansas! I suppose it makes no difference what you do, it's whether you do it "as unto the Lord." THAT is what makes it meaningful.