On Maundy Thursday we have a foot-washing service and celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the last time in Lent. The final event on this Thursday night is the stripping of the altar. All the reserved sacrament (the Real Presence of Christ) is removed from the tabernacle and the door is left open. Every one of the candles, every one of the communion utensils, every bit of “clothing” is taken off the altar leaving it entirely bare throughout the Good Friday services.
This is how it looks.
The naked condition of the altar and tabernacle is intended to convey the humiliation of Jesus, taken from the disciples, held up to mockery and abandonment in death. We never, never see the altar this way except in the last hours before Easter.
I put this picture as a cover on the Good Friday service bulletin this year. After I had printed out the copies I was looking at it again and noticed the odd light reflecting off the back wall of the empty tabernacle. And I felt a shock in my spirit as I realized what it was.
You have to know the layout of our church nave to understand. The altar and tabernacle are against the east wall of the building. On the west wall, high above the main entrance to the church, is this window:
It was the Gospel message. On Good Friday, Jesus was gone, taken from us in the most violent way possible. But that’s not the end of the story!
UPDATE: A fellow blogger talks about how he stripped the altar at his home prayer desk.