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Speaking to the Soul: Objects of Worship

Speaking to the Soul: Objects of Worship

3 Easter, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

 

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Daniel 5:1-12

1 John 5:1-12

Luke 4:38-44

As the daughter of an altar guild leader, I have at least a small sense of the assiduous care and devotion that are poured into the linens, vessels, candlesticks, and other objects used in worship. Although I sometimes take for granted the perfectly polished and ironed presence of these objects, today’s first reading gives me a keener appreciation for their sacredness.

In this passage, the Babylonian King Belshazzar is throwing a huge feast. As the party gets under way, Belshazzar gets the idea to throw away whatever sixth-century (BCE) equivalents of red Solo cups they were using. He proposes that they drink their wine from the temple treasures that Belshazzar’s father had looted in an attack on Jerusalem.

As the story goes, “Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem . . . So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.”

I generally try not to draw too firm a line between the sacred and the secular, between our Eucharistic feasts and our lives’ joyful celebrations, between the wine shared at the altar and whatever gladdens our hearts with thanksgiving. But I still feel the pain that this story provokes at using sacred vessels at an aggressor’s rowdy banquet.

Perhaps the problem is that this use of sacred vessels demotes them to purely material objects, the functional spoils of war. The passage tells us that the guests of Belshazzar “drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” The objects of sacred worship are now in the hands and on the lips of those who worship objects.

The next time we handle or eat or drink from sacred objects, I hope that we savor their sacredness. We don’t worship objects, but these objects do hold our worship, since they have received so much love and care and faithfulness. We can cherish them and thank all those who cherish and minister to them for our use, and who constantly sense that these are so much more than mere objects.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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