There was a recent conversation where someone asked why a pastor elevates the host during the Words of Institution. There are a number of practical reasons for doing this, which are perfectly valid. A pastor may lift it up so that the congregation can see what he’s talking about. He might do it to make sure there’s no doubt it came from the altar. Practical reasons are worth exploring and understanding. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it still accomplishes the goal it was created to do originally.
Those practical reasons have been a part of our worship practices for some time, but practical reasons aren’t usually what drives the church to do what it does. This case is no different.
The elevation of the host is one of those points that demonstrates much of what the church does in worship isn’t really new. The people of God have have had a formal, organized worship life since God gave them a structure for worship back in Leviticus. Even in the era of the church, much of our liturgical theology is built up on what God gave the Israelites in Leviticus. The concepts of holiness and God’s presence, sacrifices and their purpose, the role of the priesthood and more all come from Leviticus.
Here in Communion, we are still offering sacrifices. Not that we are trying to pay for our sins, for that’s already been taken care of. Instead, we offer to the Father the one thing that can pay for our sins: Christ Himself. We also offer food to God in the form of bread and wine. In Leviticus, certain sacrifices would be given to God but not wholly burned on the altar. God delineated parts of the animals be given to the priests to provide for their needs. However, every part of that animal still belonged to God. The priest had no right to take it for himself. It didn’t belong to him. The sacrifice was God’s and God decided what to do with it. To reflect this, God directed the priest to make a “wave offering” of those pieces. He would take the piece of meat and hold it up before God to acknowledge that it was His now and belonged to Him. Whatever it was before, now it was God’s and had to be handled according to His rules. Now that it had been given to God, He chose to give it to His priest
Things haven’t really changed in this regard in New Testament times. We are still offering things to God. The bread and wine on the altar are an offering given by the church to God for Him to use for His purposes. The pastor holds up the bread and wine to show they are given to Him. They are His now. They are holy now and must be used according to His purposes. In this case, He chooses to give them back to His royal priesthood, the people of the church, in order to provide for our needs as well.