Liturgy: Our Pageant

Liturgy: Our Pageant

O where are kings and empires now,
Of old that went and came?
But, Lord, thy Church is praying yet,
A thousand years the same.

Liturgy is a Divine foundation and method which allows God’s people to worship the God of order in an orderly way. It lets us enter into His purpose in history of restoring peace and order to a world steeped in sin and chaos. It grants us a foretaste of Glory Divine and sets us as participants in it.

We worship according to liturgy because it takes us into the great depths of our faith traditions, yet carries us up to the heavenly heights where our King sits on His throne. It sweeps us up in the story of God and His creation, and climaxes with His redemption of the creation after its fall into sin. No longer must we live in the clichés and waves of postmodern culture, or the innovations of pop traditions, or under the tyranny and rebellion of “self.”

Liturgy tells and retells the one story that is always true and good and beautiful, never in need of revision. It puts us in God’s story and makes sense of everything around us, up and down; east and west; past, present and future. It puts us in the company of fellow travelers in His story and molds us together by keeping our gaze fixed upon Him. It shows us, every day, God as Trinity, God incarnate, God our Judge, Comforter, Hope and Salvation. It reminds us He is all in all.

It causes us to put first things first. “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.’” (Luke 10:27) Brotherhood and benevolence, mission and ministry proceed from our love for God. When we love Him as we must, we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves which is God’s pure command.

When one enters the liturgy from non-liturgical ways of worship, it soon seems foreign, or far-fetched, that God would desire worship according to mere human whimsy rather than by His divine decree. He is about the business of gathering a people to Himself. And the manner in which we assemble, the posture in which we approach the throne of grace, speaks much about how we know the One who sits upon that throne. We should know how to approach the throne of God in a way that is simultaneously joyous yet dignified.

The liturgy is the vehicle by which the Christian enters into worship of a holy God in a holy way. It is the outward expression of an inner life guided by the Holy Spirit, a way of being which marks the Christian as a contradiction to the world. A life lived out in the sweet cadences of sacred time should not produce mundane or rote worship, but a worship worthy of a priesthood of believers, as well as the Holy One they serve.

It is God’s glory that attracts our worship and our worship must be that which gives Him the highest glory. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, instituted Holy Communion and commanded all who believe on Him to be baptized. The Apostle Paul established leaders to guide worship, set rules to preserve order, passed on the tradition of Holy Communion and taught church leaders to study and prepare. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40), he told the church. The words that attended the ritual must proceed not from the imagination of men but from the heart and Word of God. When God’s people gather in worship they are in essence renewing their covenant with Him, re-enacting Christ’s sacrifice and their acceptance of it. They must never hold a sacred thing as merely common.

In the early church, liturgy took root wherever Christ was proclaimed. Where it was perverted, as in Corinth, correction came quickly. By the middle of the second century the liturgical pattern was fixed and it continues in much the same pattern to this day. The elements and even the order remain constant to a remarkable extent even across the lines of traditions and denominations. The liturgy is flexible enough to absorb different languages, worship accents and musical styles, and strong enough to bring an order that flows out as an aroma pleasing to God.

It is not, of course, a magic incantation. Liturgical worship can be and has been as dead as a church mouse that ran afoul of the vicar’s calico cat. If we do not approach the throne with hearts overflowing with gratitude – (The Greek word underlying the word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.) – no formula will make our praise and prayers acceptable to God. When we lift up our hearts as well as our words, He receives glory and our joy is made complete. And all the people of God join their voices in a swelling “Holy! Holy! Holy!” that echoes in every corner of the world and down the corridors of time, and all that remains to say is “Amen!” Ω

The Reverend Edward W. Fowler (edited)