“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you… 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—
When I arrived at my first parish, we had a small group of women who served on an altar guild. It was a rather informal group. They took turns preparing the altar for Sunday. But I noticed that they kept coming to me looking for approval of what they had done. I was fresh out of the seminary. They did not teach a class on how to set an altar. The instruction we got was that every parish had its own practices and traditions, and that we would do well to let them continue and only change them after years of service.
Finally, the leader of the group, the senior altar guild member, explained it for me. Not long before I had arrived, her predecessor had passed away. Kay had been a wonderful woman who was thoroughly dedicated to that little congregation, but she was also a bit of a dictator on the altar guild. She would come forward for communion to receive the body and blood of Christ but also to check to see if the lines left in the carpet by the vacuum cleaner were straight and even. A veil crookedly placed across the communion ware would result in a stern admonition.
The current leader of the altar guild, also named Kay by coincidence, rolled her eyes and said that several of the women had been on the verge of quitting before the other Kay’s sudden decline and death. We agreed on a new principle for the operation of the altar guild that day. We would try to do our best, but we would always remember that if we messed up, Jesus did not. He would still forgive sins through that meal, even if the corporal was a little crooked or had not been ironed perfectly flat.
Moses speaks of adding and subtracting from this word so that we may keep God’s commands. I am constantly amazed at how we deflect our attention from the actual Word of God and focus on the rules which we construct. It is quite possible to kneel at a rail to receive the sacrament and be upset because the lines in the carpet are not straight, missing the miracle that sits on our tongue in that moment. Keep us, O Lord, from turning God’s Word and means of grace into a law which would condemn us.