In the July Scroll I mentioned that in months ahead I would focus my articles on worship. In my July article, we took a look at the sacrament of Holy Communion. This month, I want to take a look at liturgy.
The following article was posted last November by Dr. David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on his blog “In the Meantime.”
Liturgy in the church is a foretaste of the eternal song of praise, an earthly expression of that which is the content of eternity and the basic melody of creation, a never ending thanksgiving to the Creator and Father of all things. Within its earthly poverty Liturgy contains something of the beauty of the heavenly, the blessed sense of the nearness of the Eternal, and the joy of being privileged to sacrifice everything in order to be one with Christ. –Bo Giertz
What we commonly call worship is also regularly named “liturgy.” That word comes from two Greek words: “laos,” meaning people; and “orgia,” meaning work. In short, then, liturgy translates quite naturally to mean “the work of the people.” In our gathering on Sunday mornings, and in and through similar gatherings of all Christians throughout the world, we come together to give expression to the faith of the Church. We gather to express, both verbally and physically, what is valued and vital to the community, both our faith community wherever we may gather and the whole Christian Church of which our congregations are each but a part.
Put most simply, liturgy is making concrete the faith of the Church. Thus, worship is the proper and primary work of the church. We do this “work” along several lines. We gather confessing our deepest fears, failings, and hopes and hearing God’s promise of forgiveness, wholeness, and integrity. We sing hymns that contain the theology and teaching, praise and thanksgiving of the ages. We read Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. We hear the Gospel proclaimed in the preaching and receive physically this same Gospel in the Sacraments. We offer our prayers to the God who hears us and responds. We take an offering so as to share God’s blessings and abundance with others. And we depart to lives of faithful service to God’s people and in God’s world.
In all these ways we make concrete the faith of the Church, the good news of God’s mercy and grace and commitment to us and to the world. In this way, to borrow from Bishop Giertz, the liturgy becomes “a foretaste of the eternal song of praise, an earthly expression of that which is the content of eternity and the basic melody of creation.”
Perhaps what is most astounding in the liturgy is the fact that it is we who get to do this work, that God has entrusted this great gift to us. In one way, of course, all of our praise and worship is only made possible by God and through God. And so at the most basic level, liturgy, regardless of its name, remains God’s work. Yet at the same time this work is given over to us and we are blessed and equipped to do it. In this sense, it is also and truly our work, our responsibility, that to which we are commanded, compelled and equipped to do.
This is easy to forget, as, given our twenty-first century American bent toward consumerism, we are tempted to treat worship as yet another commodity, something to which we come to have our needs met. Worship does indeed nourish and sustain us. But it is also so much more. For through the liturgy we are invited to enter again — actually, to be inserted again — into the great story of God’s grace to us and all the world through Jesus Christ. In this sense, worship is “the work of the people.”
As helpful as this phrase can be, however, it can also be misleading. For our corporal worship is not our work in the sense that worship is something we own or possess or have control over. For that Greek word, leitourgia, was typically not used to denote ownership, in the sense that the people possessed that work – as in, the people’s work – but rather was typically understood as “work for the people,” in the sense of a “public work,” work done for the greater good.
Can we imagine that? That God entrusts to us this work not primarily for ourselves but for the rest of the world? Can we imagine that we come to worship to rehearse our Christian lives of love, patience, and sacrifice that we might live those lives in and for the world? And can we entertain the possibility that we go to worship not simply to meet our deep needs for spiritual sustenance but also to be changed, to be fashioned into those instruments God intends to use to continue to love and bless the world?
If so, then we immediately recognize that when we gather for worship we are being drawn into something much greater than ourselves, for we are being invited to take our place in the long line of people who have been so gripped by their experience of the living God that we now have to respond by sharing some of the grace and goodness we have experienced with the world.
We are invited to come on Sunday mornings, then, to take part in the ongoing drama of God’s redemption of the world, first within the sanctuary and then in our daily lives. So I hope that, come this Sunday, you will feel drawn to stand with your sisters and brothers in order together to make real and concrete the Christian confession of faith. I hope you will come and receive the gifts God grants through worship and the liturgy. And, most of all, I hope you will come to take your place in the ongoing and public work of God’s people to tell, be reminded of, and live God’s great mercy and grace to us in and through Jesus the Christ. For this is God’s work…and ours. Thanks be to God.