Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Dear Saints of God gathered around the Altar:
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt sacrifices on the altar.” Genesis 8:20
Genesis 8:20 is the first mention of an altar in Holy Scripture—an altar being a raised place or table made of stone, bronze, wood, marble, brick, or alabaster in order to make a sacrifice to the Most High God. In this case, it was Noah who built an altar to the Lord after the great Flood had subsided. He built this altar in faith and trust in the God who had preserved his family through the Flood. It was also built in the context of God’s promise that He would never again strike the earth as He did in the Flood, saying, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
After this, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and others built many altars during the time of God’s ancient Church. These altars culminated in the Tabernacle and Temple, which had two altars: the Altar of Sacrifice, and the Altar of Incense. The first was where the animals were sacrificed reminding the people of the wages of their sin being death; and the second was where the incense was burned, offered up to God as a pleasing smell (the smell of Church!).
In the New Testament Church, there is no mandated requirement of an altar, as Christ is the final and perfect Sacrifice for the sin of the world. However, the Church in her wisdom chose to retain the altar as the place at which and from which the Sacrament of Christ’s Sacrifice—Holy Communion—would be celebrated and given. We know that St. Paul approved of the using of an altar and that the early Christians used an altar based on 1 Corinthians. St. Paul reminds and warns the congregation in Corinth that they, “cannot partake of the Table of the Lord and the table of demons.” So we know that the early celebrations of the Lord’s Supper took place at some kind of altar table. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.” He is there refereeing to those who still place themselves under the old covenant of the tabernacle and the temple. They are putting themselves outside of the New Testament Covenant in Jesus’ Blood celebrated at the Lord’s Supper.
So what does all of this “altar-talk” have to do with Easter? Since Gloria Dei partly closed down beginning March 15, 2020, we have not been coming up to the Altar of our church to receive the Sacrament. For four months we celebrated Holy Communion only in small or family groups in the Narthex of the church building, and since we reopened fully on June 14, 2020, we have been using the Credence Table as a “mini-altar” for Distribution.
The Church Council made the decision on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, April 11, that we will return to the beautiful Altar at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church for the Distribution of the Lord’s Supper. There will be a slight change in the amount of people who will be ushered up at once, and we will continue to ask people (except for family groups) to space themselves out by a few feet. But for the most part, we will return to our regular practice of receiving the Holy Communion. This is important. Viruses come and go. But Christ’s Risen & Living Body and Blood that we receive in His Supper for the forgiveness of our sins is eternal, and it is eternally for our good. And while we have never ceased celebrating the Gift of the Lord’s Supper here, we also want to be going—if possible—to the Altar that represents the one perfect and final Sacrifice of Christ. And so on the Sunday AFTER Easter and during the entire Easter Season and following, we will return to the Altar of the Lord here at Gloria Dei, carrying on the unbroken practice of Christ’s people from Noah until today.
As I started with the first mention of an altar in Holy Scripture in Genesis, I will close with the last mention of an altar, found in Revelation 16:7. There, in his vision of Heaven, St. John describes the martyrs under the heavenly Altar, crying out. “And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are Your judgments!’” Here the speaking Altar is representing the martyrs of God who are gathered beneath it, waiting for God’s final Justice to be done. From this earthly Altar here, we receive the fruits of the Lord’s Justice which we poured out on His Son, Jesus Christ, namely: the forgiveness of our sins.
Rejoice in the Gifts He gives from His Altar!
“Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Pastor Steven J. Anderson