Why do you need an altar? There are plenty of people who would say that you don’t. Even some groups of Christians would question the validity of any worship that centered on other than the Bible.
Yet, in the Daily Office this week, there was the touching testimony of 2 Chronicles 6.32 which is the compelling description of the dedication of the altar. “May, your eyes be open day and night O Lord, towards this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, and may you heed the prayer that your servant makes in this place. And, hear the prayer of your people when they pray; may you hear from heaven, your dwelling place; hear and forgive.”
Solomon’s prayer reminded me of the classic, now out of print book “The Priest and His Interior Life.” Therein is set the real work of the priesthood. Do you really know what is the real work of the priesthood? That real work of the priesthood has little to do with chairing of commissions, administering the office and the parish, being the CEO and the like.
The real work of the priesthood is prayer. The focus of that prayer is the altar—that place where heaven and earth meet—that place where the grace of God touches the urgency of human need—that place where your tears and comingled with the divine tears of your Lord and Savior.
Ascending the several steps of Saint Paul’s altar, I am conscious that I am carrying the hopes, the fears, the dreams, the aspirations, the tears of many. They are not only those on our parish intercession list. They include those on that list but also are often well beyond the scope of this parish; well beyond what may be shared with others. The altar is the place where our griefs meet the grace of God.
Altars are things that most in our times consider unnecessary; even those among us who have the idea that they are important tend to rather much take them for granted. Like the PFD (personal flotation device) in the boat, you never really appreciate their importance right up until that moment that you really need them.