Our New Altar
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, in celebration of more than 20 years of Word and Sacrament ministry in Rankin County, MS, has undertaken a bit of a renovation. There are bigger churches than ours in the neighborhood, with more to offer in the way of programs and entertainment worship. Very few, however, provide the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine, as Our Lord intended Christians to eat and drink in His Most Holy Sacrament.
While Our Lord teaches us to live by faith and not by sight, the Church has historically sought to manifest for people the reality which is ours through Christ's Holy Ministry. When Christians could, they built magnificent buildings so that the ordinary person was reminded: "This is the intersection between heaven and earth. This is where Christ remains amidst His people, serving sinners His Precious Body and Blood for our salvation."
Church architecture, when it could, has expressed the reality that heaven and earth come together where Christ is, gathering His holy people from the ends of the earth, together in the Liturgy of His Body and Blood. The Lord's Liturgy within the Church brings sinners out of the darkness of sin into the light of God's grace in Jesus. Baptism enlightens the unregenerate and ushers them into the Lord's Service. Through the Ministry of the Word, the Baptized are instructed and brought near for the Eucharist, in which Christ Himself serves us for our salvation. In churches where Christ is still truly present with His Body and His Blood in bread and wine, not only the Liturgy but also the church's architecture reflect this ongoing, eternal movement of God's people toward the Lamb of God upon His throne, His altar of grace.
At Good Shepherd, we have been served by Our Lord for more than twenty years at a beloved, yet humble altar. It was lovingly constructed by a Mr. Preuss for a Lutheran congregation in Hazelhurst, MS. Made of wood and white marble-styled formica, it reflected the simple taste and fashion of that era. Like the humble mouths of the saints upon whom Our Lord is pleased to rest His Flesh and Blood, that altar served as the humble table upon which the Lord placed His Eucharist. He has done that in this place for more than twenty years.
A few months ago, Good Shepherd undertook a renovation of its nave (the place in which God's saints are gathered for the Divine Liturgy) and chancel (the place from which the pastor serves at Christ's Altar and celebrates the Eucharist). Under the capable leadership of Michelle Escude and the professional expertise of David Howie, we have painted the nave, refurbished the doors leading into the nave, appointed the chancel with credence tables (on which the holy vessels are placed prior to Communion), and made various other improvements.
As early as the Fall of 2007, members began making generous contributions toward replacing our chancel paraments. These paraments add beauty to the Lord's Service during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity, as well as the feast days observed in each season. Members also donated a processional cross, processional torches, a thurible (for censing the altar), and various other items by which the Lord's Service is adorned.
The image at the top of this page shows a close-up of the new altar frontpiece, in which is displayed a 16th century Russian Deisis consisting of the Lord Enthroned (at the center) and various saints in supplication. On the left, closest to Our Lord, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Next to her is St. Michael the archangel. Next to him is St. Peter. On the right, closest to Our Lord, is St. John the Baptizer. Next to him is St. Gabriel, the archangel. Next to him is St. Paul.
The woodworking to inlay these icons over the original surface of Mr. Preuss' altar was done by David Howie. The gold-leaf and surface treatment (including the attachment of grape clusters) was done by Michele Escude. Further work on the altar will include the construction of a base, attachment of columns at each corner, and surface treatment of the entire structure to match what has already been done to the frontpiece.
The icons chosen for the frontpiece help convey the reality that God's people come before the Lord's throne and altar of grace, together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Where Christ is gathering His saints together in His Body and Blood, there is the Church in all Her fullness.
Grape clusters above the icons reflect the Lord's provision of wine by which He gives us His true Blood. The Bread of Life Himself is iconically presented at the center of the altar piece. Thus, we are reminded that the Bread which He gives for the life of the world is His own flesh.
Other adornments to the chancel will include a surface treatment and painting of the walls by artist Craig Escude, member of Good Shepherd and owner of MyCrossCollection.com and www.cleARTS.com. Stained glass windows, prepared by Craig Escude and Leo Niewald, will be added to those already present. The carpet in the chancel will be replaced with marble tile.
Many people have contributed their time, skills and income to the refurbishing of the chancel and nave of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. This is an ongoing project, and we are grateful to everyone for their efforts, offerings and sacrifice. Your contributions are greatly appreciated, and even more wonderfully recieved by God in Christ Jesus and used for His glory and the proclamation of His Gospel.
Many people pass this place unaware of the Mystery therein. They may seek places which look more modern and seem more exciting and provide more in the way of earthly programs. But the Lord has His true Body and Blood upon the altar at Good Shepherd, and so upon the tongues and in the lives of the saints whom He is gathering together. We pray that many more would come and receive what is of eternal value, namely, the Lord's Blessed Sacrament. Whether adorning Mr. Preuss' altar in its original simplicity, or that altar now more ornately appointed, it is the Lord's Supper, and He would have all people come to recognize it as the place wherein Christ is truly present with His Body and Blood in fellowship with sinners.
Here are a couple more images of our chancel in the process of refurbishing.
Please be sure to visit artist Craig Escude at MyCrossCollection.com where you will find that special, handmade, artisan-crafted cross for a special gift or for your personal collection. Also, visit his work at www.cleARTS.com and find an original artisan-gift from Craig's collection of driftwood lamps, copper trees, torsos and other pieces made of glass and semi-precious stones.