And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… John 1:14
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why do we have a “Gospel procession?” For most protestant churches, church has a style either like a lecture hall or a concert hall. In either case, the congregation mostly sits and observes. Occasionally, they might stand and sing, but aside from the dancing that you might find in Pentecostal churches, the congregation mostly receives what is presented by the leaders of worship. For more traditional liturgies (especially Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran), the people in the pews have a more participatory role. Some folks call this the “Anglican aerobics:” sit, stand, sit, stand… kneel, stand, shake hands, sit, stand, walk forward, kneel, eat & drink, kneel, stand, talk & go. No chance to get bored here :). One of our liturgical exercises is the Gospel procession.
Most of the scripture readings are read from a Bible at a lectern up front. But the reading from one of the accounts of the Gospel is read from a book of Gospel accounts carried into the midst of the people in a more grand procession. In our parish, at the 10:30 service, a verger leads the procession, with acolytes carrying a cross and two processional torches, and one with the Gospel book held high. The verger, centuries ago, was probably something of a liturgical bouncer, clearing the way through the crowds for the procession (thus the stick, called the “verge”). Nowadays, the verger is more like a liturgical emcee, coordinating those who assist in leading worship. Acolytes are among those who assist, especially in the lighting of candles and carrying of torches and crosses in processions. The deacon (remember that all priests are also ordained as deacons) follows this procession out to the midst of the people and proclaims the Gospel reading to the people. Then the procession returns to the front and the preacher preaches a sermon.
Why all this fuss of a procession for this reading? Why the special shiny brass cover for the Gospel book? There is a risk that we are sending the impression that the accounts of the Gospel are more authoritative than the rest of the Bible. The church doesn’t teach that—the whole Bible is authoritative. But the Gospel accounts tell the primary stories about Jesus—his incarnation, life, ministry, death and resurrection. This is God’s ultimate self-revelation to us, and Jesus then helps us understand the whole of the scriptures.
There are some practical benefits to a Gospel procession, providing an active participation in worship rather than a passive spectator experience. The primary benefit of a Gospel procession, however, comes in its symbolism of Jesus’ incarnation itself. God stepped into human history in Jesus, came to the people to bring his grace. Thus, the deacon brings the Gospel to the midst of the people, where they are, to proclaim it. As Christians who hear the Good News of Jesus, we then do likewise, going into the world to love and serve the Lord. We carry that grace of God and the Good News of Jesus into our own world, not keeping it isolated in church, but shared with the world where the people of the world are. The Gospel procession at church teaches us to make our own Gospel procession into the world.
Join us in this Gospel procession in the church and in the world! See you this weekend!
Yours in Christ,