Mar 072018

Be Concerned About Beauty,

Be Concerned about Grace…

 Recently I had the opportunity, along with my wife, to attend a lovely dinner party given by some close friends. 


We were met at the door by the husband who, after taking our coats, led us into the living room. Other guests arrived and, together, we entered into a lively and entertaining conversation. While all this was taking place, I could glimpse the hostess and her husband slip through a door into the dining room, lighting candles on the table, adjusting the table linen, and taking the “one last look” before the guests came through for the meal. As we approached the door each person in turn began to comment upon the sight that met them.  The furniture in the room glowed from the careful polishing that had been undertaken. The table was laid with china, crystal and silver which reflected the light of the flickering candles.  A small arrangement of fresh cut flowers provided a centerpiece. Attention had been given to every detail. All was beautiful and gracious.

 After returning home, I could not help but reflect upon the similarities between this lovely meal and the preparations many churches make as they gather to worship or, most especially, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

 Certainly we could have been invited to an informal meal with our friends. Moreover, the meal could have been eaten and enjoyed without such extensive preparations and, indeed, there are times when such an informal meal is appropriate.  It is clear, however, that the preparations brought a beauty to the evening which would have otherwise been absent.  Furthermore, the care taken in preparation helped to signify the importance of the occasion and the regard in which the guests were held.

 Likewise, there are times when an informal worship service is to be desired.  There are times when an informal Eucharist is appropriate within a church. In the main, however, I think we need to reclaim “the beauty of holiness” and by our preparations honor not only our family and “guests”, but also give honor to the God we come to worship.  One may sometimes tire of the tedium of such work – the cleaning of the worship space, the preparation of the service, the crafting of the sermon and all the rest – just as one might tire  of the extensive preparations for a dinner party.  Yet, there is something that is communicated to those whom we seek to serve in our labors. It is that they are loved and honored by us, as we also express our love and honor to God.

 Be concerned about beauty…

 Be concerned about grace…

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  22 Responses to “Beauty and Grace At The Supper: Dr. Duane Arnold”

  1. Exhaustion has tempted me to take shortcuts in preparation and practice…this is a needed encouragement to work through it.
    God is coming to supper…

  2. Michael,

    We’ve all been tempted to take shortcuts… the remedy, as we’ve talked about, is an ethic of “the work of the ministry”…

  3. The key word there is “work”.

  4. Indeed, and some get it and some don’t. When I was serving in a church with a men and boys choir, if you were the officiant you had to attend and participate in a full rehearsal. Everyone did it, even the priests that had been there for 25 years… even if there was a snowstorm blowing outside and we knew attendance would be down, it was still done. One of the old priests used to say, “Only your best for God”…

  5. Duane encouraged me to post this, as I had sent it to him in an email:

    Duane, thank you for the reminder. This morning, I was dealing with the beast of jet lag, who seems to be more ferocious the older I get (67 and counting!). I thought, “I’m getting too old for this.” But as I thought about it, I was reminded of the joy of working with young pastors who are eager to learn, the joy of collecting funds for an orphanage in Kathmandu for them to be able to buy goats in order to be self-supporting, teaching young Bible college students, buying and distributing food to refugees, Indian gypsies who are throwaways in any culture. My jet-lag issues are a very small inconvenience against the backdrop of being able to engage is such wonderful, joyous efforts.
    Yes, “only your best for God”.

  6. David

    God Bless you! We all need to be reminded of the work of missions…

  7. Good post, and a healthy correction for all of us.

    Reverence is missing in today’s church.

  8. Many thanks, Josh…

  9. Even us “low church” need to think about beauty. 🙂

  10. Well said, David…

  11. Good article Duane.

    Another way of looking at a service is “doctrine and practice” or “form and substance.” Like grace and beauty, these are not dichotomies or contradictory matters.

    The practice, form and beauty are authenticated when present with salutary doctrine, substance and grace.

  12. In my Presbyterian youth the first Sunday of the month was communion Sunday and there below the pulpit in front of the first row of pews would be the tables, spread with freshly ironed white cloths and the gleaming silver of the plates of unleavened bread and the stacks of cups (it was a big church) filled with sips of “wine.” Fresh flowers flanked the tables and it was a very reverent time conducted with great reverence.
    nice to have the memory jog… and the reminder in this time of informal living that may have become too much so

  13. I must be the lowest of the low, the beauty of it is His holiness and righteousness given to us.

  14. #11 Jean

    As an Anglican, I find beauty in the liturgy and the theology of the Book of Common Prayer…

  15. I love this topic!

    I just started a book, “The Magnificent Story” by James Bryan Smith. Subtitle is
    “Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness and Truth.”

    I really think our Orthodox and RCC brethren are light years ahead of us Protestants in this area. I think part of the reason is that Prots. are so “Word” only oriented.

  16. I do not believe it was Duane’s intent at all, but I would not put a dichotomy between the Word and any form or practice.

    Even the disciples were tempted:

    “And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings.’ ”

    We know the rest of that dialogue.

  17. Jean

    You would have made a good iconoclast…

  18. The usual…

  19. Recommend you read Luther’s “Eight Wittenberg Sermons” and “Against the Heavenly Prophets”.

    Another good book is, “Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal” by Mark Mattes.

  20. We have a robust Altar Guild who are charged with setting up the paraments, the altar, its instruments and elements and the setting for the sanctuary.

    The question – who is the wine purchaser? Does Manischewitz express the beauty we are looking for?

  21. #20

    I learned early on… Always be nice to the ladies in the Altar Guild!

    Honestly, they do so much to bring beauty to the celebration of the Eucharist. They really should be honored in every church.

  22. Taking pains with details before God is how I once heard reverence described. Our altar guild is reverent and assists the congregation to be reverent. I give thanks to God for them.

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