150 years of contemplating the common and the divine

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By Ellen Schrader

One of the intriguing elements of Episcopal worship is that the common can be divine, and the divine can be common.  How can that be?  Perhaps it is the everyday aspect of some of the symbols we use each week to commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We become habituated to the routine use of those items that represent some of the divine aspects of Christ.  Our fundamental knowledge of the historical Jesus is that he was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead.  This divine phenomenon (resurrection) is represented by the processional cross that leads the clergy and altar party into worship each week.  It is lifted high above the people, a symbol of the triumph of divine love over death.  We experience it every week, yet who among us ever thinks about the actual cross that passes us on its way to the front of our worship space?  Grace Church has been using that cross since 1901.  It is both common (we see it every week), and divine (it represents the ultimate act of love).  The engraving on the back of the cross reads ‘in loving remembrance of Margaret S. Lay, Sept. 20, 1901’.  You may remember that Albert Tracy Lay was one of the earliest parishioners at Grace (see our website for the article on him). It is not clear whether Albert was Margaret’s husband, father, or another relative.

During the service last Sunday, as I took the chalice into my hands to receive the consecrated wine, the blood of Jesus that was shed for me, I wondered how many of us were aware that the chalice had been given ‘in memory of Renel Williams Bridge, 1841-1903’.  My lips were touching a chalice that also touched the lips of one of our earliest members.  We share the cup whose contents have provided comfort, succor, courage and strength to generations at Grace.  How cool is that?  The common cup, used weekly, contains the divine element of salvation.  God is with us always, in the common and in the divine.

The next time you have the chance, take a closer look at the common things we use during worship, and contemplate the divine.



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