You may have noticed that generally on Sundays there’s a bit of smoke about! If you have a Bible handy it might help..
- It’s nothing new and is thoroughly biblical. It seems it was used in Jewish Temple worship from 500 BC and was offered to God as an acknowledgement of his greatness. (look up Malachi 1:11) Though you can’t hear it, whenever more incense is placed in the ‘thurible’ (the swinging pot!) the priests blesses it with the words…’Be thou blessed in whose honour thou art burned, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’
- Look up psalm 141 v.2 and it gives the clue ‘Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight…’ That is, directed upwards like the smoke going up! The incense is a symbol of our prayers rising heavenward.. It’s not an alternative to prayer of course, but a sign of our prayers, and our desire to pray.
- Incense purifies. They say that in the early church it was used when they worshipped in catacombs to help the stuffy aroma. It’s not a bad antidote to the smells of a great crowd of people either, if you get my drift….
- The aroma reminds us that our lives are to have about them the ‘aroma of Christ’ ; a sign of his presence in the world. Read 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 15.
- It reminds us of the fragrance of heaven (look up Revelation 8:4) as opposed to the smell of the other place! (brimstone)
- As a sign of the divine presence, which is why we use it in three particular places in our worship, to both acknowledge the presence and remind us to look for it:
- The altar is ‘censed’ and the bread and wine is censed before the Eucharistic Prayer in which the bread and wine are consecrated.
- The Gospel book is censed because in it we have the words of our Divine Master
- The Ministers and congregation are censed because we are the ‘Body of Christ’ and he lives in each of us. We are to look for the hidden Christ in each person.
It reminds us that what we are about in our worship is full of mystery!