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  • Jonny Harding

Abandon the Altar

In a careful unravelling of traditionally misconstrued Divine wisdom, Jesus communicates to his disciples, followers and a mountainside full of captivated listeners;

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

A very real Kingdom-call to reimagine the actions of obedience, honour and worship. The First and the Last asks His followers to vacate gestures of worship in the pursuit of peace, healing and love.

Gestures are given in so many shapes and sizes. Some of us love a grand gesture, to impress and dazzle and captivate. Others need gestures diminished from the grandiose and made a size that acknowledges the power of the personal, the demonstration of thought and consideration of needs in small and significant ways.

More and more though I feel our gestures aren’t considered, personal or even entertaining. They feel shallow and nervous. An empty bandwagon hopped on to ride with the perceived safety of the consensus crowd. A public peacocking for validation using the brash and bold colours of my voice, purchasing habits, or behaviours. Displays moving others to the margins rather than from them. How often am I found knee-deep in our contemporary cardinal sin, a virtue signal? - My distracted and quickly re-shared opinion from a bot account online to demonstrate my half considered and loosely formed care and investment in an issue or concern.

The call to leave gestures alone and instead find and love our brothers and sisters isn’t confined to the mount masterpiece, its a loud, deep and holy one to us now.

“Leave your gift there before the altar and go.”

My gifts are safe in the presence of God. The obedience of seeking others and repairing relationships is now no longer a threat to my identity or existence. Authorised by the Spirit of God, function overtakes form, who I am and what I do is given back through the way I choose to live to the Creator and giver of life.

Who I am stays safe in the presence of God. The call to go isn’t motivated by finding an identity or acceptance, rather with an established identity and safety at the altar that I can leave it all there in pursuit of reconciliation.

I am included. I am welcome. I am safe with Jesus. From this strength I go to inaugurate rebuilding.

Let’s give up gestures. We don’t need any more shallowness or distance. Leave the shrine of other peoples opinion and let’s choose to embrace companion image bearers whether you think they like you or not. Give generously and with absolutely nobody watching. Give your money and your time away. I know for many giving time away to others is way more expensive than a spare quid (or ten) and that’s why we’ve got to give it up. We learn through being dispossessed of what we feel most precious about where grace is newly free to find us.

We have to leave our worship to pursue reconciliation.

Jesus tells me to abandon a worship gesture in order to instigate healing.

Reach out. Send the message first. Don’t wait for someone to ‘earn’ your reconciliation efforts. Worship gestures are meant to wake us up to a life abandoned to instigating healing. The smell of a sacrifice, remembering Jesus, sharing broken bread, all points to and supports us being the first mover. Make the call. By the mercy of God we aren’t dealt with the way we deserve. We are wrapped in unending love and its constriction on our distortion changes our shape to become altar-abandoners in order to love others again.

The moment in time we are in doesn’t need any more gestures, I feel it needs action fuelled from love rather than appearance management, self-preservation and a fear of rejection. To turn up for each other instead of ourselves is hard right now but the future we’re contending for is worth that investment. Long days and even longer nights of seeking individual atonement miss the point of the altar. The greatest display of love and affection, extending over galaxies and yet sticking and staying closer than a (reconciled) brother, wasn’t a gesture.

Jesus isn’t a gesture.

Find the place of peace in the tiredness of a life given away and trust the provision of Jesus in that space. There is hope in changing a pattern of practice to love others well. You have the time, I promise you do. Release yourself from the pretend and land of make-believe of empty gesture behaviours to live a full and faithful existence of facilitating reconciliation. We are the altar-abandoners, the faith-filled Jesus followers listening attentively on the mountain top to carry a Kingdom through the valley. Let go of any idea of finding fulfilment in managing our own image and embrace the Spirit of God to reform us to His. Where is there pain and disconnection that a gesture will not repair, when will we abandon the altar to go and find our brother?

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