The simple act of standing can be a sign of respect.
When a judge enters a courtroom, those present stand.
When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we stand.
When the bride walks down the aisle, guests stand.
When a guest walks up to your table, you stand.
When the National Anthem is played, you stand, well, that is, unless you play for the NFL and choose a less respectful posture.
Years ago, my wife and I traveled to the Republic of Georgia, where our daughter was serving in the Peace Corps. While in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea coast, we stepped into a worship service at a Georgian Orthodox Church. To our surprise, there were no pews. During their time of worship, all congregants stood for the entire service.
Call it courtesy, call it tradition, or call it honor, but the act of standing is an act of recognition that you are in the presence of something or someone deserving of respect.
I thought about this on a recent Sunday morning. It is the tradition in my Christian faith community to stand during the Gospel reading. We also do a lot of sitting and kneeling during our worship, but standing during the Gospel reading has become one of my favorite moments of liturgical worship.
Liturgical worship has several gestures and rituals, all meant to represent something profound and beautiful. Understanding the meaning of these simple gestures helps me to be more of a participant in worship rather than lapse into a compliant spectator.
I had an epiphany of sorts a few years ago — a moment when this act of standing for the Gospel became clearer. Ironically, I have Hollywood to thank for this revelation.
In 1962, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, To Kill A Mockingbird, was adapted into what became an Academy Award-winning movie. Starring Gregory Peck as the lead character Atticus Finch, the film is about racial injustice in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. A black man, Tom Robinson, is falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. Atticus Finch is the small town Southern lawyer who represents Tom at trial. A man of integrity, Atticus is the voice of truth willing to stand up in the midst of racism and a wall of false accusations. Though he provides convincing evidence of Tom’s innocence, the all white, all male jury finds Tom guilty.
While watching this classic film recently, my epiphany occurred at the end of the trial.
After the verdict is read and this innocent man is found guilty, the courtroom empties until a lone man remains. Atticus Finch finally rises from his chair, gathers his papers, and slowly exits the courtroom, unaware that not a soul has moved from the balcony. The balcony is the “colored only” section in 1930’s Alabama. The blacks in the gallery have sat quietly, watching in admiration as this lone white voice sought justice. As Atticus walks out, still oblivious to the cloud of witnesses above him, everyone in the balcony silently, but respectfully, rises from their seat.
The people in the balcony did not stand out of habit or custom. They stood in awe and wonder. Without a word being spoken, the scene communicated an outpouring of respect and gratefulness. You see, in this fictional 1930’s southern town, the Gospel walked out of the courtroom wearing a white seersucker suit seeking truth and justice. And those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, stood reverently, respectfully.
Seeing this scene reminded me that in much the same way, we stand in awe and wonder when the Gospel is proclaimed. Yes, the act of standing may be just part of a worship ritual, but it can also be in anticipation of a loving embrace, of a thirst being quenched, and of Truth being spoken.
Standing for a Gospel reading reminds me that there is a time to stand because there is indeed something or Someone worth standing for.
Note: In case you want to see a movie clip of the scene mentioned above, here is the link to youtube.com: