Renewing the Eucharist — Journey (book review)

A while ago, I read Renewing the Eucharist Volume 1: Journey, (Richard Giles, Nicola Slee, Ann Loades and Mark Ireland; series editor: Stephen Burns, ISBN 978 1 85311 860 9) and wrote a review for Uniting Church Studies. This little book is well worth getting, so I’m reproducing the review here:

I recall arriving in Turku, Finland on a Saturday. Next morning, I decided to go to church and with some difficulty found one with a service at the right time. It was a Lutheran congregation, as they mostly are, on the ground floor of a block of units. I wondered how I’d go—but it was much easier than I thought to feel ‘at home’, even though there was (predictably, obviously) not a word of English spoken.

My way was made smooth because I was familiar with the shape of the liturgy. I knew at every point just where we were in the flow of the service. ‘I’ was part of the ‘we’! We gathered, we received the Word, we shared the Holy Meal and were dismissed. All this was clear, without a word of English being spoken, because of this fourfold shape.

It was with anticipation, then, that I opened the first volume of Renewing the Eucharist, entitled Journey. This little gem of a book plays with the theme of the fourfold shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day:

Gathering
Word
Table
Sending

I write ‘Service of the Lord’s Day’ in good UCA style, but just as I entered the fourfold flow of a Finnish Lutheran service, in this book we enter the shape of the liturgy that forms worshippers in the Church of England and uses Anglican speech forms. Yet we find the Spirit still bestows the Pentecostal gift of understanding.

And little wonder—for this shape is neither Anglican nor Uniting, nor is it registered to any sectarian label. The fourfold shape of the liturgy is a great gift to us all: the earliest record of a congregation at a worship service employing an early form of this shape comes from the pen of Justin Martyr, writing in the Rome of the second century.

GATHERING

We begin by gathering. Richard Giles shows that the shape of the liturgy is the shape of a journey, a pilgrimage, which takes us (if we will go) ‘into the heart of God’.

Fascinatingly, he writes: ‘if we are merely ‘on time’ for the liturgy…we are in fact late. For we have failed to allow time for the essential process of gathering together’. Some people at some times may need to arrive late (and leave early), but it deprives them of participating in essential elements of the liturgy. As Giles says (p. 18),

Gathering is…a springboard [through which the] individual is made ready for worship, to give God worth-ship by first receiving from fellow-worshippers a sense of his or her own worth… Whatever life has thrown our way in the previous days, here…we are known, and cherished, and thereby may be healed. In gathering for worship we come home.

Would that all congregations gathered in this spirit to worship the living God!

WORD

Nicola Slee reminds us that the living Word is more than words. It takes the initiative, it forms us, addresses us; it is the ‘dynamic presence of God’ (p. 36), it is the Sophia Wisdom of God, it has become flesh in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the word is a life rather than a series of propositions. We need to beware domesticating the Word of God to fit our words. To really hear the Word, we both receive it as gift and (p. 40)

do all we can to make space for the word to be spoken, to cultivate the habits and disciplines that will allow the word to be heard: it is up to God, in God’s freedom, to speak as and when God wills.

The text of the Bible may alienate, because it comes mixed up in the messiness of human life. Slee is thankful that Anglicans have never made a simple identification between the Bible and the Word; I breathe a similar prayer of thanks for the guidance given to the Uniting Church by the Basis of Union.

TABLE

Eating together is an everyday activity. It fosters relationship, promotes hospitality and reminds us of our creatureliness. As creatures, we look to the Creator for life; as Christians, we draw on our ancient texts, singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ and ‘Glory be’ to the triune God. We respond to God’s gracious self-revelation and find that life is ‘sacramented’ (p. 68), even in the midst of failure and shame. In the Lord’s Supper, we are given hospitality by Jesus Christ.

How many sacraments are there? As good heirs of the Reformation, we answer ‘two’. Yet the early Church found sacramental grace in the Lord’s Prayer, making the sign of the cross, a baptismal font, anointing oil… Anne Loades’ work leads me to ask: Are we short-changing ourselves?

SENDING

Mark Ireland writes bracingly of ‘sending’ as mission. He challenges us to include the seeker. He wonders if we should take the service out of the building or have ‘fuzzier’ endings ‘so that worship fuses into mission’ (p. 87). It is not only the Sending that is missional: receiving the Eucharist ‘points us forward to the consummation of God’s purposes’ (p. 88).

It was good to see that Ireland mentions the Word of Mission in reformed liturgies such as Uniting in Worship 2 as one example of an ‘increased emphasis and space [given] to the Sending’ (p. 97). He counsels us not to truncate the Sending and thereby diminish its place as the springboard to mission. He offers some practical ideas to enhance the Sending: for example, moving the Offering to the end of the service, as our offering for the mission of the Church; or passing the Peace at that point, so that people may invite someone they don’t know to after-service coffee.

CONCLUSION

This is a wonderful little book for practitioners of liturgy, leaders of worship and students alike. Stephen Burns’ questions in Appendix 2 make it very useful for worship committees and other small groups.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!

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1 Comment

Filed under books & reading, Liturgy

One response to “Renewing the Eucharist — Journey (book review)

  1. Thanks – a very helpful review. Looks like a good read and a useful book for education.

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