Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why Strip the Altar?

Last night, my daughter and I attended our first Maundy Thursday service at our new church. That seems rather odd as we have been worshiping there for almost a year but, for some reason, Maundy Thursday 2006 was spent elsewhere. Anyway, what I found interesting was this explanation of “stripping the altar” that was included in the service bulletin and read aloud by the pastor at the end of worship. I have been a Lutheran all my life and, frankly, cannot recall ever hearing an explanation of why this activity is included in the Maundy Thursday service. I very much appreciated this information and have decided to share it with you here.
Stripping of the altar (removing all ornaments, linens, and paraments) is an ancient custom of the Church done on Maundy Thursday. It is symbolic of the humiliation of Jesus at the hands of the soldiers.

After the Last Supper, less that 24 hours remained in the earthly life of our Lord. Events moved rapidly: prayer in Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, arrest, mock trial, painful beating, the trudge to Golgotha and execution.

As His life was stripped from Him, so we strip our altar of the signs of life to symbolize His purposeful, redemptive suffering and death for us. Plants are new life springing forth. In the passion and suffering of Christ, human life ebbs from Him. In recognition of this we remove the palms from our altar.


Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” The events of Golgotha snuffed out the human life of Jesus, the Light of the world. As even creation was dark when He suffered, so we extinguish our candles and remove them.


Our offerings represent one way of serving God and others. They reflect Gods greatest offering to the world and to us in sending His Son, Jesus, in human form. As the offered body of Jesus was removed from sight in burial, so we remove our offerings.


The missal stand holds our worship books that guide our worship life together as we sing praises to God. As Jesus suffers, joyous songs are not heard. As these sounds of joy are removed from our lips, we remove the missal stand.


Jesus’ offered Body and His shed Blood have been give to us in, with, and under the form of bread and wine in this Holy Mystery. As He was removed from us in the grave, so we remove the elements and vessels of this Sacrament.


Our altar is in the form of a table. It is here where our Lord Jesus serves us as both host and meal at His banquet feast. The coverings and paraments are made of fine linen; material appropriate for feasting with our King. As our King’s body was stripped in crucifixion, so our altar is stripped of its coverings.


The Paschal Candle is carried from the baptismal font to the rear of the sanctuary where it is extinguished. There is no benediction or postlude at the end of this service, which indicates that the service has not concluded. [Our worship continues on Good Friday.]


Janet Rubin said...

Wow. That is really interesting. I like all the symbolism. We'll have a service tonight. They usually cover all the windows and turn our all the lights, but one small one that shines on the cross. The service is all singing and Scripture reading. Thank you Jesus for what You did.

Amanda said...

Thank you for posting this. Our Holy Service was last night. It was incredibly moving and as I watched the alter being stripped, I wondered what was the official significance of this. After reading your post, it seems so obvious, but I'm glad for the explanation. After understanding this better, this week is even more heart-wrenching leading up to Easter. These events are just unimaginable!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post!I am in the midst of preparations for a seder & communion service. We were planning to do the stripping of the altar out of tradition. now I will be able to give a good explanation for what we are doing. Our service will be more meaningfull! Thanks again

Plush Duck said...

I am glad that the explanation helped. Believe it or not, this is one of the most popular posts on Gooseberry Lane. I never realized how many people were interested in enriching their Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship services with this activity. May you have a meaningful Lenten season.

Caryn said...

Thanks so much for this explanation. I am going to use this explanation when we strip the sanctuary. I've done this before, but never given folks a formal explanation. Thank you!

Lynne said...

I just watched my first Stripping of the Alter. I was moved to tears. As I watched a gentlemen remove the large black bible from the alter I felt as if they were carrying Jesus away and he wasn't coming back. How could I ever live without him. His word is so alive. Thank you for choosing me Lord Jesus

Dave said...

I have also attended a Lutheran church for many years and this is the first alter stripping I have seen. It was very moving and especially moving for our 11 year old

grandson as he had been baptized that night as well.