Sacred Space, the Pulpit and the Sacrament of the Word

I've written a rather long title for this post, in part because I want to connect a couple of things. I return again to Kimberly Bracken Long's fascinating book The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship, (WJK, 2009). In a chapter entitled "Feet" she works with the concept of sacred space.

There is a trend today to de-sacralize worship space. It's true that in the earliest days of the church, the people met in homes and gardens, but as Long notes, no matter where we gather, there is a sense that when we gather for worship, that space, no matter its normal use, becomes sacred space. Although I have no need for grand cathedrals to be my base of worship, I wonder if we sometimes take little concern about the space and its use.

But, that leads me to the pulpit and its place in worship. We recently moved from a split chancel arrangement to a center pulpit one. Part of this was a practical need to better connect from the pulpit. I realize I could move out of the pulpit, perhaps using a music stand as my "pulpit." But, I would rather use a pulpit.

As I was reading Long, I came across her reflections on the pulpit, and encouragement to reclaim the pulpit. Now, she acknowledges that the pulpit arrangement can have problems, but there is value here. And what she notes is that the pulpit can make an important symbolic statement. The pulpit can be a symbol of the sacramental nature of the Word -- not just the preached word, but the Word of God. This is especially true if the Pulpit is not only the place where the preacher proclaims the word, but also where the Word is read. When we moved to a center pulpit, the Bible that had been on the lectern was placed on the pulpit. It took a little a bit of reflection to figure out how to put my manuscript on it without the notes slipping off, but by moving to one pulpit, with the Bible upon it, we do have a new witness to the importance of the Word as sacrament. But hear what she has to say:

In the same way that the table is the place set aside for the celebration of the Lord's Supper and the font is the place set aside for baptism and its related rites, the pulpit is set aside for the sacrament of the Word. In arguing for the importance of the sacraments, John Calvin compared them to the Word: "Therefore, let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace." Or, to put it conversely, the Word of God -- understood as Scripture read and proclaimed -- has the same office as the Sacraments. (p. 98).

The pulpit then, is not simply the place where the preacher performs -- indeed it is not simply the domain of the preacher -- but is the place where the Word is lifted up and heard as a means of grace.


Anonymous said…
I'm actually a traditionalist here. I like the present arrangement, but certainly wouldn't have a fit if it was something different. It's the message that counts, and what the presenters feel most comfortable with. But perhaps comfort is over-rated. I expect real worship and reflection should be a bit uncomfortable (challenging for all) at times. I don’t suppose Jesus was comfortable all the time, and wouldn't have been comfortable with constant comfort. I think worship in a home might be even more sacred- or maybe sacred is just generally scarce these days? Maybe my family should take more time for reflection at home (this blog helps there). As I look back, I was so young. Was the physical church really as sacred for the grownups or even the other children as it was for me? The beeswax and incense didn’t hurt. I wonder what was in that incense. Sorry I'm rambling. We just got back a bit ago from an awesome Chris Smither concert. Wow. He always blows me away. David Mc
Anonymous said…
I am afraid in our time the pulpit has become a symbol that separates the proclamation and encounter of the word from the hearers. Preacher away from a barrier communicates an incarnational message... the word becoming flesh among us.
And yet, one could say that in many ways the move from the pulpit in our day is more an expression of the preacher as the message.

I don't know if there is a right way or a wrong way, but rather a way that works for the preacher. I think there is a tendency among today's preachers to look to the stand up comics as models. I remember, not so long ago that everyone seemed to be moving from the 3 point sermon to a Lettermanesque Top 10 list!

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