I've been having a good time discussing worship with Phil Wilson, as well as just finishing a teaching series on it. Our discussion even spilled over to another blog over here.
In our discussion, Phil linked to his impressions of Redeemer's first ever worship services, held in the summer of '04. I was especially struck by these comments:
There was a great deal of reverence shown the book, which makes me think it was a Bible. It was kissed at one point, and held above someone's head to show the congregation. Now, I think the idea behind the reverence for the Bible is a great thing. It shows the intent of the heart to hold Scripture in such a high place, but I kept thinking, "It's only a book. Yes, we believe it holds the words of God, but still...."
Well, Phil caught me. I definitely kissed the book. And in front of a whole room full of people. Gross!
Actually, in our services there is a great deal of kissing. I kiss my stole just before I put it on and just after I take it off. (The stole is a long scarf-like item with a small cross that sits on the back of my neck. I kiss it on the cross). I kiss the altar table upon approaching it for the first time in the service, and kiss it again just before I leave. And I kiss the Gospel book when the Gospel is read to the people.
I also kiss my wife and children when they come up for communion. That is not a liturgical act, but has emerged naturally from our relationship.
In the history of liturgy, people used to kiss at the passing of the Peace (men kissed men, women kissed women). Now we tend to hug or shake hands. In the Orthodox church, people kiss holy objects such as icons. I participate in this practice in my private devotions, but rarely in public worship.
So, what's with the kissing? Well, people kiss what they love. And sometimes people kiss objects that symbolize people or places or ideas that they love. You might kiss a letter before you send it to your boyfriend. You might kiss the picture of your kids you bring with you on a long trip. A star might blow a kiss to a crowd of fans. A hostage might kiss the ground when he finally returns to his home country.
In the church, we kiss (I kiss) the altar/table where we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ. We/I kiss the book that holds the very words of God-made-Human. I kiss the stole that is a sign both of my duty and my un-earned privilege to serve the Lord in His Church. It really isn't the objects themselves that are so interesting, it is the amazing and awe-full God which they point to.
So, that is why I kissed the book. And will continue to kiss the book. Because the book is a picture, the picture of the Most Beloved. And I am on a long trip, missing Him.