It’s been a while since I posted here. That’s because life is busy, and time to write detailed articles is limited. Rather than wait any longer I’m going to sketch out another piece, and at some future point I will add more detail.
Does liturgy matter?
I recently participated in a ‘course’ intended for those considering for the first time questions of spirituality and religion. (I won’t name names, but it probably isn’t a course you’ve heard of.) I wasn’t able to be involved in very many of the sessions, but what struck me was that the content was about me — what I think, what I believe. Maybe that is a good way to try and approach people with little or no experience of Christianity.
But it is quite a long way from what Christianity is. Although much is made of what Christians should or should not believe, at its heart Christianity is about what we do.
In that phrase both the pronoun and the verb are important: the ‘we’ and the ‘do’.
We intend through this blog to explore the ‘we’ and the ‘do’ in the context of liturgy — not because liturgy is necessarily the most important thing that we do, but because it is part of what we do.
And we shall consider liturgy in the context of how we as Christians live our lives. That’s a collective thing, as our worship transforms the community in which we belong — and also as our community transforms our worship. We shall consider the view that we are engaged in a public theology, that is, debate and engagement in the public space with those who are inside the Church, those who are on the fringes — and those, if they care to join us, who consider themselves as outside. In taking this view we are following the example of Jesus, for whom public ministry and public theology were at the heart of all that he proclaimed. Living as a public figure, and dying the death of a public criminal, a primary form of his ministry was at the table. For Jesus, this radical table ministry became the means by which he not only preached but also lived and exemplified the kingdom of God. And ultimately — as Robert Karris wrote — ‘Jesus got himself crucified by the way he ate’.
It is perhaps paradoxical, at first sight, that the continuation of Jesus’s table ministry lies at the heart of our worship. The Eucharist is in many places an act of great miracle, great symbolism and doctrinal significance, and great personal devotion. Yet when we break bread together at the Eucharist, we are sharing that table fellowship which he began and which has been continued by his followers. Overlaid with other meanings and theologies though it may be, this is central to our liturgical life. Because when we break bread together in this way, we recognize the presence of the risen Christ among us, once again.
There are lots of subtleties and theological ideas to consider in among all that — and we intend to look at some of them in this blog — but fundamentally we intend to explore the continuing relevance of that table ministry in the Church today, how it relates to our eucharistic worship, how it relates to our mission to the world, how it meets (or doesn’t meet) people’s spiritual needs and how it relates to the proclamation of the kingdom of God, with its call for mutual reconciliation and for social justice.
In addition, liturgy should be worthy of offering to God; and it should inspire and fulfil us, refresh and enthuse us, and help form us and others to live that life in all its fullness which Jesus preached. We will look at all that too.
We shall try not to be overly concerned about doctrine and dogma. Doctrine and dogma have their place; but here we want to think about what we say and what we do, and how by saying and doing, both in worship and in life, we proclaim and live where God’s kingdom is at hand.
Yes, liturgy matters.
A decade or so ago we began Thinking Anglicans with the express intention of proclaiming
a tolerant, progressive and compassionate Christian spirituality, in which justice is central to the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God. Our spirituality must engage with the world, and be consistent with the scientific and philosophical understanding on which our modern world is based. It must address the changes which science and technology have brought into our lives.
Implicit in that was a connection between what we do in Church and what we do in the world. We seek to share our food with the hungry, we seek justice for the oppressed and the captive, we seek a new start for all and recognize the wrongs that we and others have done to individuals and groups, as well as to other creatures and the physical world.
These things are intimately linked with what we do in Church. We gather around lectern and table to hear and receive the Word of God; we share forgiveness and peace with our neighbours, and eat with them, recognizing the presence of Christ as we do so. We are the body of Christ, not just in Church, but in the world. Our table fellowship is not just a symbolic table fellowship existing only within the confines of the church building; rather, all these things are one.
This close relationship was rediscovered both by the Evangelical revival and by the Oxford Movement. It was fundamental to the rise of Christian Socialism and lay at the heart of the Parish Communion movement.
And so in this new blog we shall look at the link and explore how our worship can reflect the social justice that we have proclaimed, and at the continuing relevance of this in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The title ‘Thinking Liturgy’ connects this blog to the parent ‘Thinking Anglicans’ and also indicates the intention to think about liturgy and promote liturgy that is thoughtful. We shall cover a range of liturgical topics and news, and try not to be confined to any particular theological or doctrinal stance or ‘churchmanship’, though our focus will be largely Anglican and English. We shall consider too how our worship, our liturgy, impacts on our mission. We intend to promote and share good liturgical practice, among both laity and clergy, and we shall explore liturgical presidency. We may provide sample material, and news of synodical authorization and commendation. We intend to review books and also services and buildings, and we will cover related blogs and other material on the internet. We expect to have a number of guest contributors and we welcome spirited liturgical discussion.