As congregations in the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions awaken to the possibilities of enhancing the visual dimension of worship, paraments arc becoming more common in our churches. Paraments are cloth hangings that adorn I lie pulpit mid the communion table. They usually bear the colors of the liturgicaly ear and symbols, such as a crown of thorns or a flame. Some paraments symbolize special events in the life of the church, such as a baptism or a missions festival.
On these pages we picture some of the paraments Edgar Boeve, professor of art at Calvin College, Crand Rapids, Michigan, prepared for Bethany Christian lief armed Church in Holland, Michigan. The descriptions accompanying the photographs are excerpted from Bethany's bulletins.
Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the Savior, a time for reflecting on Old Testament prophesies. The left part of the pulpit parament depicts the burning bush of Exodus 3, a symbol the early church associated with the coming of Christ: just as God promised deliverance to Israel when he spoke from the bush, so Christ brings the promise of deliverance for all people. The right part of the design depicts the Branch of Isaiah 4:2 and Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12—13: Christ is the Branch through whom God speaks and promises deliverance from sin.
The table parament is based on Isaiah 55:12—13, an Old Testament passage that anticipates the coming of the Savior.
The pulpit parament depicts the manger and star, familiar symbols of the nativity, to remind us how God came down to earth and revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
The table parament incorporates the symbol of the lamb— "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" (Rev. 5:12).
During Epiphany we celebrate the manifestation of God's glory—to both Jew and Gentile—through Christ. The hands in the pulpit parament point horizontally and vertically within the circle of unity, revealing the manifestation of Christ to all people. Greens are symbols of life and growth in the natural as well as the spiritual world. The central hands are clasped in fellowship as we are brought into the communion of the saints.
The vine in the table parament is used to express the relationship between God and his people. The figure of the vineyard is sometimes used to represent the protected place where the children of God flourish under his tender care (Isa. 5:7).
Christ, too, used this symbol in his teaching: "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5).
The pulpit parament contains the Chi (X) Rho (P) monogram of Christ—formed from the first two Greek letters in Christ's name. Along with the monogram are the crown of thorns and the crown of victory—both of which must be understood in the light of their relationship to Christ. Christ's crown of thorns reminds us of his suffering and death for our sins. The royal crown is the emblem of Christ's victory over sin and death (2 Tim. 4:8 and 1 Pet. 5:4).
The table parament uses the symbols of Ghritfs ultimate triumph. The palm branches and white path of Palm Sunday point to Christ's victory over death.
The pulpit parament celebrates Christ's resurrection through the symbol of a rising sun over a renewed earth.
The table parament incorporates the crown and cross of victory with the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet (based on Rev. 1:8 and 22:12-13).
The pulpit parament combines the rhythmic patterns of the "mighty wind" with the dove—symbols of the Holy Spirit. These two symbols are enclosed in a circle, the symbol of completeness for the Trinity.
The table parament features the "tongues of fire that separated" (Acts 2:3) by which the mighty works of God were declared—and still are to this day.
The pulpit parament draws its symbols from Mark 1:17, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men"; and Matthew 13:47, "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish."
The table parament reminds us that Christ once compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed and that God's kingdom grows through the work of the Holy Spirit. The church engages in its missionary task of planting the word of God in the hearts of people everywhere.