Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The liturgy draws us out of ourselves. . .
We do not worship in order to get something out of it but we get something out of it because Christ is there, accessible through the means of grace and laden with the gifts of His once for all sacrificial death. The liturgy does this not because we recognize valuable tips along the way or because we are open to change or because we desire this. The liturgy does this because it IS the Word sung, said, proclaimed, and prayed. The Spirit is at work in that Word. We do not enter the liturgy to forget ourselves but in the presence of our gracious God and confronted with what His love has accomplished for us and our salvation, we are drawn out from the confines and prison of thoughts, feelings, desire, and experience.
One of the worst things we can do is try to gauge the measure of our progress in sanctification while the liturgy leads us into the Word of God and to the Table of our Lord. The liturgy is not an experience worth having but the experience of God's gracious presence which redefines what is good, right, true, beautiful, and salutary. When we mine the liturgy for something relevant or useful or spiritual or profound we miss what is present there in the Word and Sacrament.
People who go to Church hoping to get something out of it often end up going home disappointed and, at least in their estimation, empty handed. People who cross their arms and wait for the preacher to fix something or give them some practical and useful tip to employ at home or at work, usually go home without the pithy and practical knowledge they sought. People who approach the Lord's Table thinking that this will be a good experience, end up failing to experience the good that Christ has deposited there in His flesh and blood.
The liturgy is not the most practical use of our time -- at least according to the measure of the world and our own hearts. Preaching is seldom the mine where we find rich and useful ore we can refine and benefit from as we seek to fulfill our goals and desires. Both of these are, in that respect, the most impractical wastes of time and at the same time deliver to us the most profound gifts of grace that can ever be encountered on this earth.
When my mother told me "it is good for you," it was almost always something distasteful I never wanted to experience again. From the lima beans that sat on my plate until they were cold to the visit to the dentist who was going to "fix" my teeth, I listened to her tell me it would be good for me. It may have been but that did not keep me from vowing "never again." When we tell the world that the liturgy is good for them or worship is useful, the world is rightly suspicious and we are just as duplicitous as my mom. It does no good to tell a child to go to church because he or she will have fun or to coax a reluctant spouse by saying it will be good for them or to invite an unchurched neighbor by suggesting that maybe they will get something useful from the experience.
Worship is the place where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we forget ourselves and all the proprieties by which we define who we are -- at least long enough for that same Spirit to soul-search us into confessing our sins and woo our reluctant hearts into the presence of God where His Word addresses us with forgiveness and His flesh and blood become our food for eternal life.