Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I talk to both newcomers and those who have been Episcopalians for years, one common theme flows through our conversation when we discuss what keeps them here or drew them here. Almost to a one the topic of "worship" comes up. By that I mean "our liturgy" which means the way The Episcopal Church has adapted the ancient Catholic Mass to reflect how we experience God. Liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia meaning "work of the people," "public work done at private expense," as well as others. As such our liturgy is always adapting while remaining attached to the ancient mass. From this practice comes our constant attention to being both ancient and modern at the same time. It is a challenge and when it works we are carried back in time to the early church and bring forward to our current context and culture the ways of Christ that transform the world.
With this introduction I ran across an article on "The Top Ten Reasons We Use Liturgy." I hope this helps to bring a deeper understanding and appreciation for our Sunday worship!
It shows our historic roots. Some parts of the liturgy go back to the apostolic period. Even the apostolic church did not start with a blank liturgical slate but adapted and reformed the liturgies of the synagogue and the Sabbath. The western mass shows our western catholic roots, of which we as Episcopalians are not ashamed. The race of faith is a relay race, one generation handing on ("traditioning") to the next the faith once delivered to the saints. The historic liturgy underscores and highlights this fact. It is also "traditionable," that is, it can be handed on.
This is often overlooked by critics of liturgical worship. Most of the sentences and songs of the liturgy are direct quotations or allusions from Scripture or summaries, such as the Creed. In other words, the liturgy is itself the Word of God, not simply a packaging for the Word. Many times the liturgy will rescue a bad sermon and deliver what the preacher has failed to deliver. I know; I've been there. Ten is one of those good numbers in the Bible signifying completeness, so I'll stop at ten. I'm sure there are more.
It serves as a distinguishing mark. The liturgy distinguishes us from those who do not believe, teach, and confess the same as we do. What we believe determines how we worship, and how we worship confesses what we believe or as Episcopalians believe, "Praying Shapes Believing."
It is both Theocentric and Christocentric. From the invocation of the Triune Name in remembrance of Baptism to the three-fold benediction at the end, the liturgy is focused on the activity of the Triune God centered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Worship is not primarily about "me" or "I" but more about "we" and "us" living with God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and our ownbaptismal inclusion in His saving work.
It teaches. The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God - creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ's incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit's outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the "whole counsel of God" on a regular basis.
It is transcultural. One of the greatest experiences of my worship life was to be in a Eucharistic service in France, knowing no French, I knew enough to recognize the liturgy, know what was being said, and be able to participate knowledgeably across language and cultural barriers.
It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety.
It is corporate. Worship is a corporate activity. "Let us go to the house of the Lord." The liturgy draws us out of ourselves into Christ by faith and the neighbor by love. We are all in this together. Worship is not simply about what "I get out of it," but I am there also for my fellow worshipers to receive the gifts of Christ that bind us together and to encourage each other to love and good works (Heb 10:25). We are drawn into the dialogue of confession and absolution, hearing and confessing, corporate song and prayer. To borrow a phrase from a favored teacher of mine, in church we are "worded, bodied, and bloodied" all together as one.
It rescues us from the tyranny of the "here and now." When the Roman world was going to hell in a hand basket, the church was debating the two natures of Christ. In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
It is external and objective. The liturgical goal is not that everyone feels a certain way or have an identical "spiritual" experience. Feelings vary even as they come and go. The liturgy supplies a concrete, external, objective anchor in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word, bread, and wine. Faith comes by hearing the objective, external Word of Christ.
It is the Word of God.
See Ya Sunday!
All Saints Messenger >