In his wonderful little book Patterned by Grace, Dan Benedict (a United Methodist and a great guy) talks about the formative dimensions of the liturgy. In other words, we are formed as Christians by regular participation in God-centred worship. He puts it a number of ways. Here’s one:
The liturgy carries us into the presence of Jesus. Just as the friends in the Gospels carried the paralysed man to Jesus (Luke 5.17-26), the liturgy brings us to Jesus. It breaks through the crowdedness of our preoccupations and the ‘false self’ that keeps our true self from him. The liturgy is a means of grace. It is not something we do but a means through which the community called together by Christ acts in concert to bring us into the Presence. A mutual carrying takes place. In liturgical participation we carry one another into the Presence.
This reminds me of an interview I saw years ago on the TV with an Anglican organist who had grown up Methodist. In the Methodist Church, she had felt that worshipping God was all up to her; yet in the rhythmically patterned life of Anglican worship, she had found that when she was going through a time of depression and unable to ‘do it herself’, the people and the liturgy had carried her.
It can carry us too, and form our faith; we don’t have to be Anglicans! We can trust the movement, the flow, as we adore the triune God, hear again the word of grace in the forgiveness of sin, listen and respond to the Word of God as it comes through the scriptures, share the holy meal and go out into the world with the words of blessing ringing in our ears.
The liturgy is indeed a means of grace.