We stand out of reverence for Christ.
When there is a full procession, we stand and face the processional crucifix. It is also appropriate to bow toward the cross and make the sign of the cross as it passes, as a reminder that Christ has marked us with His cross in the waters of Holy Baptism.
I’ve noticed, too, that when there’s not a full procession, people still turn to face the pastor as I walk in. Why is that? That’s not something I’ve ever instructed people to do, but the do it instinctively, because they know what pastors are called to bring them: Christ.
We stand when a judge enters a courtroom, not because the judge is anybody important but because he occupied an office which we respect. The judge may be a nice guy or a jerk, but we don’t stand for him, we stand for his judicial office.
So when we stand for the procession, even when the pastor’s the only one processing, we don’t stand for the pastor. We stand out of reverence for the Office of the Holy Ministry. The pastor may be a nice guy or a jerk, but we don’t care. Just like we make our pastors wear vestments to cover them up, to hide their uniqueness, to beautify the Office and cover the men who occupy that office, so when we stand, it’s not for the pastor, but for Christ. Standing out of reverence for Christ tells the pastor, “Buddy, we don’t care about you. We want you to give us Jesus. That’s what we made you promise to do at your ordination. That’s what we prayed for last night and this morning. We trust Christ’s Word and promise that He has sent you to us to give us His gifts.”
Pastors are nothing. The Office of the Ministry is Christ’s. Pastors are just the sacks of worms (to borrow Luther’s description of himself) God has chosen to fill that office, to use as His instruments. The Office is holy because Christ is holy. And we show reverence toward the Office because Christ uses it to bring us gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.