Sunday, September 22, 2013
Why does the liturgy feel unnatural?
The natural inclination of our hearts (original sin) is on us. We naturally judge all things by what we like, what we want, what we feel, what we desire, etc... Scripture tells us that the natural heart is at enmity with God and finds the things of God strange and unfamiliar. We are not at home on the holy ground of God's presence and neither should we be. Worship is a learned activity that proceeds from faith and the liturgy is the domain of the Word of the Lord and the Sacraments of the Lord. It is not our "home ground" but remains the holy ground and alien place where we come because we are bidden and not because it appeals to us. That is not to say that we do not learn to love the liturgy and love the means of grace. Of course we do. But it is learned love and, as long as we wear this flesh and blood, a part of us will always seek to rebel against the House of the Lord and what the Lord does within His House.
I will admit that often liturgical congregations seem intent upon adding to the strangeness of God's House and the mystery of liturgical worship by failing to welcome, to assist the new person, and communicate how the liturgy flows (both in the page number wherein the liturgy and hymns may be found and in form -- saying back to God what He has said to us...). As irritating as it is to enter a liturgical congregation for the first time and have no one pay attention to you or your lack of familiarity, the main reason why the liturgy feels unnatural is sin. Our sinful natures remain like the tired old ruts of road. When left without instruction, we revert to that which is natural. I am bored. I don't like this. I don't get it. I don't want to be here...
One does not have to be a stranger to liturgical worship to feel this distance. Many of those who have been participants in the liturgy for years remain on the fringes. They fight, resist, and remain in the dark about the who, what, and why of liturgical worship. It is easier to remain aloof from what is going on than to surrender our preoccupation with self. We carry our smart phones with us, we treat the things of God casually and wander in and out instead of paying attention to what God is doing, and we give in to the incessant need to talk about, comment on, or converse about anything rather than listen to the rhythm of the liturgy. We complain about the music or the ambiance (hard pews, too much sitting, standing, kneeling, etc...) or the people (focusing on them instead of their liturgical roles). In the end we are choosing the easy path of giving in to self rather than yielding by the aid of the Spirit to the Lord and His gracious actions.
"Liturgical worship feels unnatural to us because does not reflect our "natural" feelings. Rather, it teaches us what to feel when God meets us in His Word and sacrament."—Harold Senkbeil, Sanctification: Christ in Action, p. 180.
That is the point. We must learn what to feel, what to look for, what to focus upon... The Spirit's primary work is not delivering God's gifts to His people but preparing us to receive them. The Spirit has a herculean task in this regard. We do not want to learn new feelings, to learn new desires, to hear and heed something besides the voice of our own hearts. This is the Spirit's work from baptism. Killing the old nature declared dead in baptism and raising up the new person created in Christ Jesus to hear and heed the Word of the Lord, to rejoice in His gifts, and to delight in His service.
The liturgy is not our natural home because of sin but God is at work in the Spirit so that we might desire that which is His domain, His gifts, and His holy ground. It is a life-long process that is fed and nourished by constant participation in the liturgy, regular catechesis in how God works to deliver Christ's gifts to His people, and by learning to pray the liturgy as the voice of faith and the faithful.
Entertainment worship only works when it offers us something we like or want. There is no guarantee that on a given Sunday we will be convinced that what entertainment worship offers is something worth getting out of bed and going for... In fact, the Christian world is filled with people who go from church to church solely because they have grown tired, bored, or disenchanted with the entertainment of one church and look for something new, exciting, and different. Hence the constant pursuit of novelty by some Christian churches. The problem with this is that the pursuit of that which is new, exciting, and different is squarely at odds with the God who gives Himself to us in predictable places (Word and Sacrament).
God help us, Amen.