Why we use Incense in Holy Communion Service? Last month one member asked me,“Achen, please explain to us why we use incense in Holy Communion?” People have different views about why we burn incense during worship service. Some consider it as a mere ritual and some even think it as pagan and unbiblical. So I thought this month we should understand the significance of burning incense in Holy Communion Service so as we can worship God more meaningfully.
1. Incense as a holy offering to God In Exodus 30:7-8 we read, “And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.” So God’s command is to burn incense day and evening whenever we worship Him (2 Ch. 13:11, 29:7). In Bible incense is always associated with worshipping God. It is a holy offering to God (Ex.29: 4, 30:7, 8; 2Ch 13:11, Lev. 16:12-13, Phil 4:18). We burn incense in Holy Communion Service, in dedication of House, Consecration of Church, Consecration of Bishop and Holy Ordination.
2. Incense symbolizes holy presence of our Lord who sanctifies us When Jesus was born he was presented gold, frankincense and myrrh by the wise men who were looking for the King of the world. (Mt.21-12). All these valuable items were given as gift to honor a King. These items were considered as holy so these were holy offering to a deity. Gold is a precious metal; frankincense is a holy perfume; and myrrh is an anointing oil. These gifts given to baby Jesus symbolize who Jesus is. Jesus is both the King and God, whose incarnation is the most precious gift of God to the world; His life brings fragrance and sanctification to the world and he is the Anointed One of God to bring salvation to all. So incense symbolizes sweet-smelling presence of our Lord (see also Ex. 3:21, Lev. 16:3, 12-13). As God’s presence sanctifies everything so incense symbolizes God’s sanctifying presence.
3. Incense symbolizes prayer of the faithful We are sinful in nature, and in God isthe absolute holiness. In worship we are in presence of that absolute holiness. Here greatest offering is repentance. As God’s presence is sweet and sanctifying, the community here repents and prays for God’s mercy and goodness. Revelation 8:3-4 says, “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” As smoke from incense goes upward, so the burning of incense during worship symbolizes the prayer of the faithful that goes up. (Rev.4:8; Isa 6:3). In St. Luke 1:9-10, we read that the priest Zachariah was burning incense in the temple. While he was burning incense, the whole multitude was praying outside. Psalms 141:2 says, “May my prayer be counted as incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.” The other biblical passages areEx. 29:41, Lev. 6:15, 21, 30:8; Ex: 30: 37-38; Mt.26:13; Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4).So burning of incense is “prayer in action.”
4. Incense symbolizes mystery in Worship In Exodus we read God’s presence day and night through pillar of cloud and pillar of Fire. (Ex.13: 21-22). Incense also symbolizes mystery in worship. What is mystery? Mystery is something difficult to understand or explain. We have our own limitations in understanding God. To understand God in totality/fullness is difficult, as God is transcended in nature and we have our own limitations. Burning of incense fills that place with smoke and gives sweet odor. Presence of smoke forbids clear vision so it signifies mystery in Holy Communion service. The smoke coming out from incense also signifies that God is transcended in nature and beyond our comprehension. So incense therefore signifies the immanence and transcendence nature of God.
5. Incense symbolizes that we should worship God in fear of God In Exodus 19:18 we read that the Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke and smoke filled all places and the whole mountain trembled greatly. The thick cloud, the thunder and lightning flashes created awe in the people. (Ex. 19:15ff). Altar being the Holiest place of the Sanctuary, the presence of smoke from the burning of incense symbolizes God’s Holy presence to which we should dedicate our life with fear and trembling. In heaven all creatures worship God in fear and trembling (Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4). Our worship is the replica of Heavenly worship.
Dear brothers and sisters, so burning of incense in Holy Communion service is biblical. Incense is a holy offering and it symbolizes prayer, mystery, awe and sanctifying presence of our Lord.
May God keep us in His Warm and comforting Embrace
Rev. Shinoi Joseph Vicar
“Wishing you all a Happy and a Blessed New
Year.” (Achen and Family)
Midterm Examination will be held on Sunday, January 11, 2015.
The annual Teachers’ Christmas Fellowship Dinner will be held on Sunday, January 25, 2015 from 5 PM - 7 PM at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Koruthu Mathew (2 Oak Lane, Roslyn Heights). As usual, this is a potluck dinner. All teachers are requested to attend with their families.
Edavaka Mission will meet every Thursday at 7:30PM(except January 1). The venue of the meetings will be announced later in the church.
Edavaka Mission Activities
Thoma Voluntary Evangelist's Association was found by our late
Metropolitan Most Rev. Abraham Mar Thoma out of his strong conviction
that each Mar Thomite is an Evangelist. Evangelism
is the utmost mission of this Organization. The Parish level unit is
known as the Edavaka Mission and at the Long Island Mar Thoma Church,
New York, we give stress to the seven fold activities such as
Intercessory Prayer, Bible Study, Sharing of Experience, House Visit,
Visiting the Sick, Group Activities etc
Edavaka Mission regular
meetings are conducted every Thursday at 7.30 PM at the Church as well
as Members' houses with prior announcement at the Parish on Sundays.
Fasting Prayer meetings are conducted once every month at the members' houses either the last Saturdays or Thursdays depending upon members and Achen's
convenience with prior announcement at the Parish on Sundays.
Edavaka Mission also support various Mission projects such as sponsorship of students at St. Thomas School,
Visakhapatanam, India. Sponsoraship of an Evangelist in India. Medical
and financial aid to different individuals and families based on
requests received by Achen time to time. Edavaka Mission welcomes
donations from members for the above mentioned activities and
sponsorship. For details, please contact our Achen Rev. A. B. Binu, Mr.
Mammen Samuel or Achamma Jacob.