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Reredos - Monday Musing, January 24, 2022

Dear Church,

Reredos. Do you know what it is? We have one at The Federated Church of Orleans! I didn’t know what it was until a sage member of our congregation told me. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the wooden structure directly behind our communion table is called a reredos (pronounced rare-ah-doss). The word’s origin comes from a Middle English word for behind or back.

The term reredos is sometimes confused with the term retable. While a reredos is generally placed on the floor behind an altar, a retable is placed either on the altar or immediately behind and attached to the altar. Since our reredos is neither attached to the wall nor the communion table, technically it’s called a reredos. Most reredoses are fancy, decorative screens displaying religious images. Ours is a mostly hidden piece of furniture that is rather plain-looking with no religious ornamentation. You could argue that it is merely a utilitarian piece of furniture holding the Cross and candles.

I was thinking about our reredos yesterday. Coming out of church I thought about the scripture lesson from 1 Corinthians 12 that we read: “those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member” (12:23-24). The Apostle Paul says that the church is the body of Christ and we all have differing gifts and abilities. Our reredos is located in a prominent place of honor (and we didn’t even know it!).

I guess that means even us “utilitarian” Christians – those of us who strive to live our lives modeled after Jesus – are the visible expression of the love of God, even without any fancy decorations or religious adornments. Since the church is the caring agent in this world, we as a community of faith use our gifts, however small, to do the work of ministry. We are disciples (disciple defined as imitating both the life and teachings of Jesus). Our church is a body of people, serving as the tangible expression of God’s love.

Each of us has a role to play. Yes, we need something to hold the Cross and candles in our sanctuary. Not all of us serve in major positions of ministry where our work is visible. For many of us, our acts of ministry go unnoticed and unaware. As Paul says, the body does not consist of one member but of many. Bill Staines’ song reminds us that “All God’s critters got a place in the choir.” See you in church!




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