Holy Smoke

At All Saints we use incense in our worship. In doing so we follow the Magi who brought incense as a gift to the infant Jesus.

But why?

Incense was a common part of Jewish worship, just as songs and chanting, and words of call and response were. In a sense to use incense in worship is no stranger than singing hymns, choruses, anthems or songs. Or for me to say ‘The Lord be With You’, and for you to respond ‘And also with you’.

Jewish worship in the temple would have included all these things, as well as brightly coloured robes and decorations.

The early Christians did not see their worship of God as a radical departure from their ancestors. The book of Revelation gives an insight into the worship of heaven and of the early church. There are robed elders, bowing, an altar, and hymns that we still sing to this day.

And in the book of Revelation (8:3) we also see incense

Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne.

Incense then is a symbol of prayer and worship. The smoke rises heavenward, from us to God. Although our prayers are rooted in earth they are focussed on God’s will in heaven.

With that smoke rising heavenward comes the scent. A pleasing odour. And so should be our prayer and worship – sweet and not bitter. How we pray is important and should not be judgemental of others.

Finally beneath the smoke and fragrance is a hot coal, a burning fire. Our worship should be inspired by the Holy Spirit and the fire of God’s love.

And when all is said and done, all the grains and coals are burnt up – an offering. Just as the Jewish people made burnt offerings.In the Old Testament Malachi 1:11 prophesised a time when:

From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering.

As Christians, we believe our worship fulfils these words. In Revelation, there is a heavenly altar and the Lamb of God. Here on earth countless Christians throughout the world gather at earthly altars to make a pure offering, the Lamb of God in bread and wine.

May our worship always be like incense. Sweet and not bitter, looking towards God, and inspired by his Fire!