This Is the Day the Lord Has Made!
Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad in It!
All throughout the world people are scurrying to worship (or coming home from it). My thoughts sometimes drift to what will pass for worship and what they will settle for...
Will it be an emotional presence they seek -- hence the oft repeated phrase in those churches, "Do you feel the Spirit?" Will it be a reasoned presence -- logical truths debated without passion, without feeling? Will it be a fellowship presence -- the Christ whom they sense in the people who share the pew or the building? Will it be a judgmental presence -- in which Jesus is calling out sinners and thrusting them aside? Will it be a sacramental presence -- in which they receive the Lord who comes in water that bears His name, in bread and wine set apart by His Word?
I find it interesting that a person such as I can attend a pentecostal service and not understand or sense anything that is going on even though the people there share my culture, homeland, and language. I find it interesting that a person such as I can attend a liturgical service (the mass in some form) and have nothing in common with the culture, homeland, or language of the people there but know exactly what is going on.
It seems to me that when we depart from the Divine Service (the mass form) we set up a distinct liturgical identity separate from and unrelated to the one that flows from its Word and Sacrament rhythms and a communion distinct from that Eucharistic community formed and shaped by the means of grace.
This is what happens in a denomination when some of its churches depart from that identifiable liturgical framework to invent one of their own or borrow one from those outside their own communion. Unity is turned into something fragile and weak. The Sunday morning identity of the people who share a common denominational name is fractured into multiple identities that appear to have little or perhaps nothing in common with each other.
It seems to me that we turn the attention away from the Word of the Lord and His sacramental presence within His Church on to a preacher or choir or musician (s) or a host of other things -- and however well meaning those who do this, the end result is that the foundation upon which their life as Christian people is shifted from the security of the Word and Sacraments of our Lord to something more tenuous and uncertain.
The trouble in all of this is that people often flock to things that are not good for them and disdain the things that are of most benefit. So the usual barometers of growth and health used in the Church (as someone once taught me, noses and nickels) can become the undoing of the Christian community.
Now first of all I do not at all buy into the proposition that liturgical churches cannot grow. Of course they can and should. And although I am loathe to admit it, there is truth to the fact that some churches that do liturgy very well do not do welcome very well and do not make it easy on those new to their community. It would seem that what we could learn from those growing churches is not how to do worship but the importance of being the welcoming community that Christ intends for us to be. It is less the "how to" we need to borrow, but the objective look at ourselves and what we do from the perspective of those who do not know us and are new to us.
Those many who come on Sunday morning for some good preaching, some enjoyable music, and some good entertainment -- have they received all that Christ intended for them? Willow Creek, to their credit, has studied their own history and left the answer to that question a question. It seems that others are so busy improving their product they do not have any time left to see if it is the right product consistent with the Gospel and the intention of Jesus. It also seems that others are content to do the liturgy right, whether or not there are many folks there to be called into its life and meet the Christ who comes where He has attached His Word and promise...
Maybe what we seek most of all is a marriage of the passion for outreach and the lost married to the same depth of passion and commitment for the Law and the Gospel, the Word and the Sacrament... Unfortunately, for all denominations, this marriage is not as common as it should be....