Peripatetic Preachers

It’s probably not even considered avant-garde or even cutting edge let alone bleeding edge anymore.  The peripatetic preacher is here to stay.  He is admired for coming out from behind the pulpit and mixing it up with the people.  Why that’s what Jesus would do.  But as I said the novelty is passé.  I know this to be true because over 30 years ago Bethany, Austin did away with their pulpit.  So what if anything has been lost?

Luther had an opinion on that.  He said, “’In our churches today we have an altar on account of the communion of the Eucharist, and we have platforms or pulpits for teaching the people.  These have been built not only for necessity’s sake but also for solemnity’s sake.’” (In the Name of Jesus, 348)

Did you catch that the pulpit was not merely a matter of necessity so the preacher could be heard and seen but for solemnity’s sake?  When Luther spoke of church architecture he spoke in terms of the two poles of solemnity’s sake and necessity’s sake.  Solemnity corresponds to the artistic side of the problem according to which the physical form becomes a symbolic reference to the hidden worship event. (In the Name of Jesus, 348)

Communion linens disappeared, probably before pulpits, with the same freewheeling, barebones approach to worship.  The Communion vessels don’t need to rest on linen; why should they be covered at all?  These spirits of reform acted like worship had originated with them as if nothing had been handed down to them for any reason at all.  “Who would dare to pretend to find ‘unnecessary or superfluous’ things in a great fresco or a great poem” (Mosebach, The Heresy of Formlessness, 114)? While we Lutherans say there are things in the Divine Service that are ‘unnecessary or superfluous’ for righteousness, we have not said therefore they are worthless or there is virtue in doing away with them.

In regard to Communion veils, the truth of the matter is that the Church historically veiled things to give evidence that there is more here than meets the eye. This is not the same reason crosses and crucifixes are veiled at Lent.  This is a latter practice, and it was to take away precious things from the eyes in the same way the precious word alleluia was taken from the lips.

Actually something quite profound is meant by veiling (and therefore by not veiling). “Veiling, in the liturgy, is not intended to withdraw some objects from view, to make a mystery out of it, or to conceal its appearance.  The appearance of the veiled thing is common knowledge anyway.  But their outward appearance tells us nothing about their real nature.  It is the veil that indicates this….If one wanted to formulate a theological doctrine of the veil, one could say that God’s creation is real, but this reality, this ability to be real, is weakened because of original sin.  Its lack of reality, its lost ability to radiate beyond itself and manifest itself as the Creator’s thought is designated by the veil that represents this radiance…In this context a liturgy that renounces all veiling has nothing to say.  Presenting us with nothing but naked materiality, it takes account neither of creation’s supernatural perfection nor of the world’s need of redemption.”  (Mosebach, The Heresy of Formlessness, 172-173)

Back to pulpits: just as judges rarely if ever come down from benches, just as those benches are “high and mighty,” so pulpits are.  The man who dares come out from either is saying he doesn’t need these trappings of solemnity.  He doesn’t need an indication that something more than a man is speaking here.  It’s lesser judges who need the trappings of the State and lesser pastors who needs the trappings of the Church.  As for me, I would not dare say what I do on Sunday morning if I thought it was coming from me.

Of course once the solemnity of the pulpit goes the gowns are not far behind….except for special services like weddings and funerals.  This is both hopeful and condemnatory.  It’s hopeful because there is at least a remnant of recognition that there are occasions where the man upfront ought to be veiled to indicate the solemnity of the service. It’s condemnatory because services having brides or bodies at the physical center call for the veiling of the pastor but services where Christ’s Body and Blood are front and center do not.




About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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