In August, I drove to Ohio to visit my family for a weekend and to collect the dishes my grandmother had designated for me 12 years before, when she died. After more than a decade, I had a stable enough (read: not-a-dorm-room!) home in which to keep and use these family heirlooms. Though we have sturdy and colorful Fiestaware, I looked forward to using this set on weekends, on days I felt extra low, special occasions, and any time I longed to feel close to my grandmother and my family again. Especially in a time when many kids move away from ancestral homes and lands, objects like these taken on extra meaning and reverence.
I remember Thanksgiving with these dishes (I’m talking specifically about the dinner plates/serving bowl in the photo above); just seeing them immediately makes me think of my grandmother, her home, how I felt when I was there, and by extension, the rest of my family. In a way, when eating on these dishes, I’m eating with my family–we’ve shared meals on these plates and pieces.
This is the same thing that’s going on in church–this is why Episcopalians and Roman Catholics and other churches of “high” liturgy use silver-plated goblets and plates, and why they use fine linen napkins and tablecloths. First, the meal that we join together to eat each Sunday (or whenever you go to church and enjoy a Eucharist) is an important meal, it is a meaningful meal–like Thanksgiving, or someone’s birthday, or the night the boss comes to dinner. Second, just like the special dishes that remind me of my family and ancestors, our special silver chalice & paten (cup & plate) are reminders of the Christians who have worshiped God for generations before us, in that very church–they were bought or given by them and passed down through the generations of Christians called to be Christ’s church in a particular place; they’re heirlooms (metal lasts longer than clay or porcelain, let alone gold’s anti-bacterial properties–spurious or not, this comforts me). Third, we believe that somehow, this bread and this wine is different than the stuff you pick up at the grocery store, and if it is different, if it is in some way Christ’s Body and Blood, then we ought to treat it with some care, and putting it on sturdy, beautiful, set-aside-for-that-use serving-ware seems like a good way to denote its importance.
Therefore, we dress up. What I mean is that if we notice the importance of particular meals in our daily lives (Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas (!!)), ought we not remember the Last Supper in the same way? A way for each of us to respond to God’s call to us is to present our best to him–our best clothes, for one thing. Of course, God doesn’t love us less if we show up unshowered and with jeans on, nor does he talk about us behind our back with the Son and Holy Spirit; however, dressing up for church is a way of putting some of our own skin into the game, so to speak. God does not require it!–but God does desire a contrite heart (and since we are not just hearts, but bodies, our clothing and how we use our bodies can be an offering and symbol of our contrition and honor and love for God).