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October 26, 2023: The Great Procession

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths. Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior. Such people may seek you and worship in your presence, O God of Jacob.

Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, invincible in battle. Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Heaven’s Armies— he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24, NLT)

Question: Why does our worship service begin with a processional?

At one time, all worshipers—clergy, servers, and laity—gathered outside of the worship space and followed the cross into worship. We still follow this pattern on Palm Sunday and then again at the First Fire service on Easter. We come from our weekly labors, from diverse directions, and are brought together by the cross of Jesus. We come because Jesus won the victory on that cross. We come bearing the very aroma of our Lord: “But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, NLT)

At the time of the Reformation, many Protestants discontinued the use of processions. They recognized the great need to refocus worship on scripture which had tragically been lost during the Middle Ages and so they eliminated what they considered extraneous elements. However, processionals are found in scripture, not only on Palm Sunday, but in the Old Testament. The Psalmist says, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!” (Psalm 42:4, NLT)

Thus, our Eucharist begins in praise. Not merely the singing of upbeat songs, but those who follow the cross to the feast of celebration, invited as strangers from the highways and byways to eat at the King’s table.

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