whatever happened to liturgy?

The Royal Wedding.  What an amazing demonstration of premeditated calculations!  I can’t begin to imagine the man-hours dedicated to engineering one of the social events of a generation.  Prince William is just a few months older than I am and I don’t anticipate seeing as much pomp and circumstance in a wedding ceremony until their (or our) children choose to wed.

Although the wedding ceremony itself (a “call-to-order” of the wedded life) can vary among cultures, there always seems to be a structure in place signifying to the participants that something incredibly important is happening. If for no other reason then for the simple fact that this event will hopefully happen only once in a lifetime.

What does this have to do with liturgy?  Imagine that such a celebration was performed happenstance, without thought as to the meaning or magnitude of it. Imagine that this royal heir, with a pedigree of majestic history built into his DNA, walked in whenever he wanted, said whatever came to mind and then proceeded to trounce around thanking everyone for coming. He would be perceived as a dunce and the rest of their lives would be haunted by this memory.

This is important – the magnitude of the event may have come from the size of the audience and it’s rarity but the meaning of the event came from who was invited. The wedding list was very telling of how significant this moment was. This was why a liturgy was important, to help the participants grasp the totality of the event. Even if we had to sit and wait for the next moment, the next sentence, the next syllable or thought, it was ultimately to invite the presence of God among them.

The liturgy helped to identify (or locate) authority in the future King and Queen of the Commonwealth Realms.  Deep inside there is still an awareness of the holy in the marriage ceremony.  We’re truly celebrating another when we allow a liturgy to guide us on this sacred journey.  Finally, the liturgy in this wedding pointed us all to a transcendent history of people, places and ideas extending deep into the records of time culminating in this very moment.

Liturgy is known “as a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance.” We know these things don’t we…and yet in my faith tradition and in what I’m seeing in so many other productions of the weekend experience of church, what do we have now to help us grasp, identify, celebrate and transcend?

Instead of a creed, we have announcements.  Instead of sacraments we have electric guitars.  Instead of a sermon we have a talk.  Instead of silent reflections we have as much noise as possible.  Hear my heart in this: I have seen a balance of such things and seen them well but I don’t feel that balance accurately reflect the trends of worship in our post-Orthodox landscape of North American Christianity. Where do I get the authority to say such things? I can’t remember hearing of an Evangelical/Charismatic/Orthodox catechism for children widely espoused. When was the last time our order-of-worship for kids church was modeled after the Northumbrians or our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters?  I know there are churches who are on this track but they operate on the fringes, not in the limelight of our conferences.

So why is this important and why am I pointing out kids ministry and a connection to the Royal Wedding?  Assuming nothing of their personal salvation, William and Kate nevertheless know who they are and where they came from. Can the children of our churches say that? Can you and I say that? What if we were as certain of our identity in Christ as they are of their identity in British royalty. I believe in a new song from within.

I believe that deep calls unto deep at the roar of His waterfalls but I also believe that things like the Orange Conference drive our vision more than a re-imagining of our liturgy. We have espoused so many models of ministry birthed from cultural reaction instead of drawn from the deep wells of our traditions.  We don’t know who we are or where we came from.

So where do we go from here?  I see us on a dangerous trajectory, one that continues to revere in awe or disdain the culture we operate in.  I propose instead a dynamic liturgy that uses developmentally appropriate methods to ultimately induce praise, thanksgiving, supplication and repentance. What that looks like for your faith community, I don’t know and don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that we’ve invited the world to a wedding feast, we are the bride and the bridegroom cometh. I know that to grasp the totality of his Coming, to understand His authority, to celebrate Him and see history as His-story we need a liturgy, not another conference or model.  My hope and purpose in writing this is simple – reflect well upon how we spur kids and families to respond to the sacred and let’s make culture react to Christ in us.

The Free Dictionary: exhortation definition: an act or instance of exhorting.


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