Symbols of Our Altar

The Altar is the symbol of God's presence. It says that God is in His house: that He is near and approachable, so that we may draw near to Him. At Zion, the center aisle gives us a direct and unhindred approach to the Sanctuary. The word "Sanctuary" refers to the place where the Altar stands. It means the "the holy place". The Altar in the Lutheran church speaks of the access to God for sinners. The wooden Cross in the center is to remind us of the crucified and risen Lord. The bronze ring on the cross signifies Eternity, God's love never ending. The Candles on either side of the cross proclaim Christ as the "light of the world".

The Mensa, or Table

The top of the Altar is called the Mensa - Latin word for table. On this table is placed the Fair Linen. On the fair linen is embroidered five Greek crosses, one in the center, and two on either side near the edge of the Altar. The five crosses are symbolic of the five wounds of our Lord. The fair linen is symbolical of that linen which the women used to wrap the body of our Lord in when He was laid in the tomb. When we partake of the Lord's Supper, the Communion Service is placed on the Altar. The fresh flowers placed at the back of the Altar beautifully proclaim the fact of New Life. As the seed dies in the ground and grows into a green and living plant, so we, too, through death shall come to a New Life. Flowers speak of resurrection.

The frontlets, or Colorboards, are referred to as the Paraments or seasonal hangings, of which we have six. Usually they are made of damask, rich brocade or silk brocatellas. The colors are white, black, violet, blue, red and green. Each color has a significance:

The Wooden Carvings

The symbolism seen in the Altar at Zion Lutheran Church is centered about the Holy Trinity. The large carving in the center of the Altar is that of the Lamb of God - symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Lamb rests on the Book of the Living God, from which hang the seven seals, telling all men that Christ is the Word become flesh. The Crown is symbolic of His Kingdom over the souls of men. The Waving Banner indicates the militant spirit of the Kingdom of our Lord, doing battle against the devil and his forces. On either side of the Lamb of God, there are the symbols of God the Father and God the Holy Ghost. The Hand of God the Father, coming down from heaven, suggests the thought of His creative and preserving power, that it is He that has made us, and that it is by Him that we live and move had have our being. The Holy Ghost is depicted in the Nine-pointed Star, suggesting the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galations 5:22:

The panels to the right and left of the central Lamb of God symbol contain the carvings of the Sacrament of the Lord's supper; The Shock of Wheat suggesting the Bread, and the Cluster of Grapes suggesting the Wine, and reminding us of the truth that God's Grace comes to men through the Word and the Sacraments. As one looks closely at the symbol of the Bread, the Shock of Wheat, one will see that the woodcarver has included a Bird, resting on one of the branches of the grape vine. This symbol suggests the thought of Righteous, resting on the sure promises of God, knowing that when the storms of life come and blow him from his perch, he still has wings, and can fly to the heavens, safely and untroubled.

The Side Candelabras

The Side Candelabras, three on each side of the altar, are faced with six symbols of the Lord's Prayer. Each candle represents a petition from the sacred prayer. Reading from left to right:

  1. The first symbol is that of the Seeing Eye of God, shining forth from the triangle of the Trinity. This is the symbol of the First Petition, "Our Father who art in Heaven".
  2. The Second Petition, "Hallowed be Thy Name", is depicted with the name of God, Jehovah, spelled out in Hebrew characters, surrounded by a circle, signifying eternity.
  3. The Third carving is that of the Sailing Ship - picturing the church as "Thy Kingdom Come".
  4. The Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven", is not included in the carving of the side candelabra, but is suggested by the central symbols of the church, the Cross and Altar - that all men would come to the knowledge of God through Christ and His atonement for the sins of the world.
  5. The Fifth Petition, "Give us this day our Daily Bread", is simply shown by the Sheaf of Grain.
  6. "Lead Us Not Into Temptation", has as its motif, The Serpent, the tempter of the Garden of Eden, tempting all of the Sons of Men.
  7. "Deliver Us From Evil" is the 7th Petition, and carries the picture of a Storm, with lightening and thunder suggesting the storms and stresses of life on this earth.

The devout Christian, as he kneels before the Altar of God - receiving the Blessed Sacrament - will be strengthened as he meditates on these symbols of the Seven Petitions of the Prayer Perfect.

Other Parts of the Altar

The sides of the altar are called The Horns. In the Old Testament, the edges of the Altar of Incense were decorated with rams horns. That is how it received its name. The horn generally indicated great strength. The floor on which the Altar stands is called the Footpace. It should always be remembered that the altar is in no sense an object of worship, it is an aid to worship.

The Altar Rail was originally a symbol of the division between the priest and the people. It has no such meaning among Lutheran, nor should it be thought of as a barrier between the congregation and the Altar. In the Lutheran faith the Altar Rail simply provides a place for communicants to kneel while partaking in the Lord's Supper.

The Lectern and Pulpit

On the Lectern, where the Epistle is read, are the symbols Alpha and Omega ("I am the beginning and the End"), flanking a scale signifying the just judgment of God.

The Pulpit is very important in the Lutheran church because from the pulpit the Word of God is preached. The symbols on the pulpit represent the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Below the Evangelist symbols is the Open Bible with the Torah, signifying learning through the Scriptures.

The approach from the center aisle to the Altar has three steps. They represent the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Empty Offering Plates must never remain on the Altar to symbolize no offering. Giving to the Kingdom of God is a glorious privilege. Every offering placed on the Altar honors God's Name.

Baptism: the Other Sacrament

The other Sacrament is celebrated at the Baptismal Font where we as a child, or an adult, are baptized and become heirs of the Kingdom of God. The Dove, symbolizes the Holy Spirit descending with the gifts of grace, peace, power, faith, hope and love.