Another in a series of posts identifying some of the symbolism in the worship space of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.
Like the Baptismal Font, the altar was designed by Richard Caemmerer. It is the focal point
The theme of eight recurs around the altar. The railing has eight sides, and the brick foundation of the altar is three tiers with eight sides each. This reminds us again that as we receive the Sacrament we are incorporated into the promise of the eighth day and new creation.
Above the altar is the "Lantern", a circular, lit, white pointed ceiling drawing our eyes upwards to “the things that are above” (Colossians 3:2). The white circle, with its two rings of light, represent the purity, light, and eternity of heaven.
Below the lantern is an uneven circle of wood representing the world as we know it – uneven and broken by sin. Sixteen wooden beams (8X2) radiate from that uneven circle making it into a symbol of the Crown of Thorns Jesus wore at his Passion in which he identified with and transformed the brokenness, suffering, and sin of this world.
The St. Barnabas processional cross stands next to the altar reminding us that the Eucharist is a participation in the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The cross was also designed by Richard Caemmerer.
On the horizontal arms of the cross are the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega (the equivalent of A and Z), reminding us that Christ is first and last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 1:8)
At the top of the cross is the Chi-Rho, an ancient Christian symbol made of the first two Greek letters in "Christ" – ‘X’ and ‘P’ (rho, or ‘r’ in Greek) - superimposed on each other.
At the bottom is another ancient symbol, a Christ monogram. It is a combination of the ‘I’ (iota) and the ‘X’ (chi), the first letters of Jesus Christ in Greek.
In the center of the cross is the body of Jesus – the corpus (body). The presence of the corpus makes this a crucifix. It is a reminder that in the incarnation, God came to us enfleshed as a human body. In the Passion, Jesus shared in real bodily suffering; and in his resurrection, Christ rose bodily from the grave conquering death and establishing the promise of new creation.
The placement of the cross next to the altar signifies that the Eucharist is always a participation in the one sacrifice offered by Jesus. And it reminds us that we can bring all our needs to the foot of the cross and that we are called ourselves to take up the cross and follow Jesus.