Monday, September 13, 2010

Symbols Mean Things

When worshiping in symbol "rich" service, it behooves the worshiper to look around and take stock of the various images and objects surrounding them designed to inform and influence the worship event. Particularly in a liturgical setting, one should not take the various symbols for granted; on the contrary, it falls to the parishioner to learn of their meaning and have that lesson aid the religious experience. One such symbol was observed regularly some time ago when worshiping at a church where a local Bishop was also the church Rector. Thus, each Sunday saw that Bishop processing into the assembly at the beginning of the service, and then back out again at the conclusion.

Those that attend such a type of church do not need to be reminded of the impressive raiment donned by Bishops during the service. The robe, the mitre and the Shepherd's staff all combine to project the simultaneous images of authority and responsibility. However, if you don't fully know what you're looking at, as has been my case during the past year, they can appear "merely" impressive, not appreciating the meaning of the symbols. Recently, however, I developed a greater appreciation for at least one of those symbols: the Shepherd's crook.

In an episcopal church structure, Bishops are the "shepherds" that delegate some of the pastor duties to the local rector (pastor). Nonetheless, regardless of how much local pastors perform some of the "pastoring," the Bishop apparently knows that responsibility for the "shepherding" falls to him. This was recently demonstrated to me in a powerful way when our church underwent an episode that held the potential to devolve into a tumultuous affair. However, in typical "shepherd" fashion, the Bishop came to offer personal assurance that all would be fine, that pastoral care goes on uninterrupted, and that the Lord is our Shepherd - therefore, we lack nothing (Psalm 23).

Symbols mean things. In this case, the symbol of a Bishop processing into a church service with the shepherd's staff reflects the reality of his responsibility, his responsiveness and the "shepherding" from the Lord offered by his office. I love that symbol. It reminds me that "the Lord is my Shepherd," and because of how the Lord sends us Bishops for pastoral care... "I lack nothing."

No comments: