Tag Archives: Liturgy

The Transfiguration of Jesus (Year A, 6 March 2011)

Landmarks

Readings
2 Peter 1.16-21
Matthew 17.1-9

When my family first arrived in Australia in 1965, we were placed into a rather grotty fish processing plant which had been recently turned into a migrant hostel. It reeked of fish. Rotting fish. We took any and every opportunity to get away from there, and not knowing what else to do, we went into Brisbane City quite a few times. We’d been advised that you couldn’t get lost in the city—all you had to do, wherever you were, was to look for the City Hall clocktower and take your bearings from it. And you know, it worked! We used it as a landmark to help us in a strange place.

Of course, today that’s impossible, with all the high-rise buildings that have gone up since. Today, City Hall is dwarfed by its neighbours. The clocktower no longer serves as a landmark.

If you’re in a strange place, or on a hike through the bush, landmarks are essential. They tell you where you are. A landmark may be a mountain, a waterfall, a building or a fork in the road. Without those landmarks, we’d be lost.

The spiritual writer Margaret Silf talks about landmarks on the spiritual journey. When we’re on the spiritual journey, we need landmarks just as much as when we’re on a walk through the bush. Perhaps even more.

Let me tell you about a landmark on my spiritual journey. It was 3 April, 1983. I can date it exactly, because it was Easter Sunday.

I’d been studying hard for my post-graduate qualifications as a psychiatrist. I’d also been steadily losing my faith; it seemed to me to be less and less real.

Most of my friends had gone away for Easter, but I had stayed home to study. I’d decided to go to church on Easter morning, more out of a sense of duty than anything. So I walked down the road to a nearby church, St Peter’s Anglican Church.

I love the Anglican liturgy, I really do—when it’s done well. However, it can be done very badly indeed.

On this occasion, it was dire. I wasn’t a regular attender of this church by any means, and I’d heard that the priest wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but I wasn’t prepared for how bad it was.

As the service went on, I wished I were somewhere else. But I was too polite to walk out.

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Friday fragments—23.04.10

Anzac Day…

…is on Sunday. Eureka St has some interesting reading.

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When you’re being criticised

Brian McLaren has some good stuff on responding to criticism. And a great prayer to meditate on at such times.

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Work FOR the people

The word ‘liturgy’ is often misunderstood as ‘the work of the people’. Makes as much sense as a butterfly being a fly that hangs around butter.

This new blog gives a better understanding—of liturgy as work for the people—and more besides. I’ll be interested to see how it develops.

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Feria de Abril

Or April Fair. But this one’s in Seville! My daughter lives there, and sounds like it was fun!

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A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Uniting in Worship 2 contains ‘A Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day’. The Working Group on Worship simplified it at our meeting last week, and offers it on the website. I’m putting it here too:

A VERY SHORT GUIDE

to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Introduction

When we cross the threshold into a service of worship, we bring with us the concerns and joys of our lives. In other words, we bring the concerns and joys of the mission field in which we live. The Sunday service does not provide ‘time out’ from our daily mission; liturgy and mission are integrally related. ’Liturgy’[1] is our graced response to God’s gracious acts. It is best to think of liturgy as the work of God in which God graciously enables us to share. Through it we are brought into relationship with the triune God and we offer worship as the body of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In worship, we speak to God in a direct way in praise and adoration, confession and lament, intercession and thanksgiving. It is the primary speech of the community to God, rather than speech about God, the secondary speech of reflection and discussion. It is also God’s speech to us – for example, in the word of grace at the declaration of forgiveness, in the proclamation of the Scriptures, in the blessing that rings in our ears as we leave. The speech of worship is nonverbal as well as verbal, including such things as gesture and movement, colour and sacrament, silence and music.

The nature of worship gives rise to the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day, just as the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day helps us to appreciate the nature of worship. Knowing the structure of worship gives space for creativity.

The liturgy should give expression to the life of a local worshipping community. It may be enhanced by such things as drama, dance, the visual arts, music and the use of multimedia. A whole congregation may be involved e.g., through the use of percussive music and/or movement. Readings and prayers may be offered by more than one voice. Creative presentations may be helpful; they should be well-prepared and thoughtful. They should be a vehicle for the worship of the people, rather than a performance. Participatory worship is always the guiding principle; the congregation is not an audience.

The ministry of the leadership of worship is crucial; the leaders simultaneously lead the people in worship and worship as part of the body of Christ.

The Service of the Lord’s Day

The Service of the Lord’s Day has four parts, which could be briefly characterised as: gathering, hearing, being fed and being sent.

The Gathering of the People of God/Gathering as God’s People

The leader greets the people in God’s name, and calls them to worship. Here, we cross a threshold – we move into a sacred space, and a sacred time, a space and time ‘set apart’ for the purpose of communal praise.

At this point, we pray in particular ways. Some of these ways may include:

• asking for God to be present with us in a prayer of invocation;

• praising and adoring God for being God in a prayer of adoration;

• confessing our sins in a prayer of confession, and hearing the declaration of forgiveness;

• pouring out our hearts to God in a prayer of lament.

This is honest conversation with God; God’s greatness and God’s care for us bring our response into being. In worship, we are formed as a people of faith, receiving our identity as people who call for God to come to their aid; who praise God in adoration; who confess their sins to the God of mercy and grace; who cry out to God for justice.

The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word

People are shaped by story, by narrative. When we want to get to know a person, we listen to their story. When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. As Christian people we are shaped by the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Word; the story of God’s dealings with Israel; and the story of God’s people through history. As we hear this story, we are formed by an alternative perspective on life – the perspective of the gospel.

The story is told through proclamation of the gospel. This includes a reading or an alternative presentation of the Scriptures, preaching or another form of reflection on Scripture; it may also include drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence. We hear Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, in the ‘unique prophetic and apostolic testimony’ of the Scriptures (Basis of Union, 5).

Hearing the story requires a response, for it is God’s Word addressing us. The immediate response is often one such as ‘In this is the Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God’. Yet the response does not end here. It can take various forms, such as a time of silent reflection or some form of action. It may continue in saying together the Nicene Creed or another statement of faith, which is a corporate re-telling of the story. It also includes making an offering (of ourselves, our gifts, our money, and our prayers for others); and the notices and concerns of the community.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper/Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Baptised into Christ in his death and resurrection, we are invited to share in the meal of thanksgiving. An invitation to the Lord’s table is given. This invitation requires pastoral sensitivity; all baptised Christians are welcome to share the meal, but not all may be permitted by the laws of their Church to receive communion with the Uniting Church. This needs to be respected as we continue to pursue the unity to which Christ calls us.

The various names given to this meal by our traditions show something of its meaning: it is the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Christ on the night of his betrayal; it is the Holy Communion, a sacrament of union between Christ and believers, and of the union of the believers themselves; it is the Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’. Indeed, its primary note is thanksgiving – honouring God for all that God is, and giving thanks for all that God has done in the work of creation and salvation.

We use bread and wine which are the work of human hands. More than this, they are the gifts of God for us in the sacrament. They are the signs of God’s work for our salvation in Jesus Christ. They are most fitting for the purpose when they are used boldly: a single loaf of bread and a common cup are most appropriate. After the service, what remains of the elements should be consumed or otherwise reverently disposed of. Respect for these means of grace, as well as sensitivity to our ecumenical sisters and brothers, require this care.

The centrepiece of this part of the liturgy is The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The origins of this central Christian prayer lie in Jewish prayer at Passover and in the grace at every meal. Jesus built on these at the Last Supper. Our present sacrament also derives meaning from other meals hosted by Jesus – e.g. after the resurrection at Emmaus (Luke 24), or by the seashore (John 21). Its essence is thanksgiving to God for the mighty acts of God. It is a ‘Great’ Prayer because it is the expression of all the gifts of God for our salvation, above all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is important that the significance of the prayer is not diminished, and that it is offered prayerfully.

Here, we remember Christ; indeed, we are ‘re-membered’ in Christ, ‘re-joined’ to him as he is present with us in the action of this meal.[2] We are ‘re-called’ to the presence of Christ in our midst. This meal anticipates and makes real the reign of Christ; in sharing it we are reconciled to one another. This part of the liturgy often begins with the greeting of peace. This action is about being reconciled in Christ, and with one another in Christ, rather than exchanging a personal greeting.

We tell the narrative of the institution of the Sacrament at the Last Supper by Jesus, whether in The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or before it; this is part of the story that shapes us as a people of Christ.

We invoke the Holy Spirit,[3] that the bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us, and that we may have a deepened awareness of and participation in the reign of Christ. As we pray for the fullness of the Spirit, the hope of the full reconciliation of all creation with God is enacted.

Having given thanks, we break the bread and lift the cup and share the meal as the community of Christ.

The Prayer after Communion has similarities to a grace after a meal; it is also a self-offering, and a prayer that God will continue the blessing.

The Sending Forth of the People of God/Being Sent on God’s Mission

Having heard the word and shared the meal together, we are sent forth on mission; we are again on a threshold. We typically sing a hymn/song of mission. The act of singing helps to confirm our identity as a community.

The leader gives a blessing to the people in the name of the triune God; this is a blessing for the next stage of the journey, a proclamation of the Word of God, an assurance that God’s promises are always made new.

This part of the liturgy encourages us to continue the worship of God in our witness and service; in the words of the Iona Community, we see that ‘worship and work are one’; or as the Eastern Orthodox tradition has expressed it, we go to ‘the liturgy beyond the Liturgy’. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ.


[1] ‘Liturgy’ (Greek leitourgia) literally means ‘the work of the people’, which was understood to be public service to God.

[2] The Greek term for this ‘remembrance’ is anamnesis.

[3] This ‘invoking of the Spirit’ is the epiclesis in Greek.

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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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