What’s in a piece of wood?

Luther rose
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My father and I had a discussion on a piece of wood ( of all the things we got to talk!). It made me realise that much of our church’s tradition and practices remain unexplained, despite the deep meaning, and its operating in the symbolic world, which most of us prefer. Did you know that there is a rectangular piece of wood, the size of a tabloid newspaper folded into half, kept on the altar of the churches of the Syrian tradition? Sorry for the newbies, I’ll explain that Syrian part sometime. In the sanctuary of the church, the ‘saucer’ in which the ‘sacramental bread’ is keptand the cup of wine (Chalice), are placed on this wooden piece. You can’t see it because it is wrapped in special cloth and placed over the altar. After the bread and the wine are placed on top of it, another special cloth called ‘sho-sha-ppa’ is used for covering it ( the symbolism which stands for mystery!). Why are we really talking about this wooden piece? Because of its symbolic meaning: Waving your palm, means ‘bye’, beckoning with your finger towards you means ‘come here’, your arm around your friend’s shoulder shows your friendship or your love – in short, we depend on symbols and symbolic gestures. What’s that unseen wooden piece – of which, perhaps, you haven’t heard – mean? Why is it there if it’s not seen? That rectangular wooden board symbolises a couple of things. In old testament times, animals and birds were sacrificed on stone altars, as an ‘offering’ to God in order to get rid of their sin. Jesus’ death on the cross, was symbolically a sacrifice. An offering to God for everyone’s sake. He died for the sins of everyone in this world and, that ‘sacrifice’ was on a cross ( which is made of wood). The wooden piece is a means to commemorate that act – the last sacrifice done. Once. And. For. All. Thus all the songs of praise and the prayers of thanksgiving offered to God in the church, are symbolically an offering to God. All done, on a wooden piece. Secondly, this wooden piece is a portable altar. Yeah. Who ever said portability was a modern idea? For close to 20 centuries, this wooden piece has been taken and placed wherever an altar is set up ( all of this is in the Syrian tradition, not other Christian denominations). If, the Holy Communion is celebrated in a house, or a house warming service is conducted, or a healing service for the ill is done, this wooden piece is taken along, wrapped in it’s cloth and kept on the table where the crosses and candles are set up. for the service. This portable altar is a symbol of the presence of God. A symbol. Just to remind us about the pervading, unstoppable presence of God. In a life where everything explicit gives meaning, we have some things in our tradition which remain subtle and carry depths of meaning. What you see, isn’t only, what you get.Finally, the name of this wooden piece, in Syriac is Thabaleetha.

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