RHYTHMS OF GRACE (PART 1 of 8)
In the ebb and flow of liturgy, God is at work, whether we hear him or not.
This story is also available as a PDF (download).
Ask members of a congregation, ‘How was church on Sunday?’, and you’re likely to get an extremely wide variety of answers.
The fact that public worship can be experienced as ‘challenging’ or ‘comforting’ or ‘long’ or ‘interesting’ or ‘excruciating’—or any other word you can think of—has to do with a number of things. First, we are all different, and this means that our appreciation of worship depends, to some extent, on who we are. No doubt a visitor, a regular worshipper, a young child, a musician and the pastor will each be attuned to worship in their own unique way.
But experiences of worship also vary because a lot of different things are happening when we assemble as God’s people. There are the things we set out to do (pray, listen, commune and sing) and the things that happen anyway (we grumble, daydream, worry and gossip). There are also the things that only an ‘expert observer’ might notice, such as the social dynamics, cultural realities, ritual acts and symbolic understandings of worship.
The Lutheran liturgy … serves to break our earthly routine by bringing us together, by letting us hear the voice of God and share the meal of God, and by finally sending us back to where we came from, ideally as changed people
All this means that I can’t say what worship can or even should mean for you. Worship can be experienced in many ways!
However, it can also be said that the central communion liturgy of the church has been ‘designed’ (although it has also just ‘grown’) to do and achieve some very definite things. Both the overall shape of the liturgy and its individual parts exist to affect and change us. In fact, liturgy makes a daring claim: God is here, and this is what God is doing to you!
So, while we react to the liturgy in various ways, the liturgy itself has a very clear ‘agenda’ towards us. Perhaps the trick to ‘getting more out of worship’ is to recognise that agenda, and give ourselves over to it. That’s what this new column in The Lutheran will be about—to recognise and welcome the way liturgy would have its way with us.
The first step in doing this can be to get a sense of the big picture of the liturgy. Just as stories or dramas have unique ways of signalling their beginning, middle and end, so too does liturgy. Today, many denominations—even some that are traditionally less liturgical—recognise that, despite our distinct worship traditions, we share a common worship pattern that looks something like this:
- We gather as God’s assembly.
- We attend to God’s word.
- We share in God’s meal.
- We depart anew into God’s world.
The Lutheran liturgy also follows this pattern. It serves to break our earthly routine by bringing us together, by letting us hear the voice of God and share the meal of God, and by finally sending us back to where we came from, ideally as changed people. And while it might seem that we ourselves have been quite busy during worship, we remember the claim liturgy makes about itself—and about all our activity: God is at work, sometimes obviously, but more often than not, in a hidden, humble and quiet manner that we may not even recognise.
Rev Linards Jansons teaches Liturgy and Worship at Australian Lutheran College.
‘Rhythms of Grace’ is an eight-part series about Lutheran worship, particularly liturgy, in The Lutheran 2013. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.