Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good Theater is not Good Liturgy. . .

There is perhaps no time of year more prone to the substitution of theater for liturgy than during Holy Week.  Holy Week is filled with drama but it is not the kind you need to manufacture.  It is already there in the text.  The richness of the story is drama and theater enough.  We do not need creative clergy to add to it (what ends up being a distraction).

The liturgy of Holy Thursday already has its own theater.  From the individual absolution to the stripping of the altar while Psalm 22 is read, the drama of this day lies in the Word itself.  What we do is attendant to that Word and not in place of it.

Good Friday is not celebrated best by the re-creation of the first flogging, crucifixion, suffering, death, and burial but by the telling of the whole story faithfully, taking care not to dramatize the text and therefore draw more attention to the reader than the reading.  The starkness of a chancel emptied of its appointments and a simple cross as the backdrop to the story is its own theater and does not require us to add to it.  If you want to use the strepitus (loud noise) fine but don't overdo it.  Let the Word be the loudest noise.  The story of God's redemption finding its climax in the suffering and death of His incarnate Son for the sake of the whole world is the real drama.  If we need to add to it to keep the people's attention, something is terribly wrong.

Holy Saturday is likewise a liturgy filled with plenty of ceremony and symbolism.  The great temptation is to over dramatize it for effect but the effect of our el dramatico style is to detract from and diminish the story of God's redemptive actions that frame the might act of deliverance He accomplished through His Son.

Everyone knows Shakespeare’s famous “All The World’s a Stage” line from As You Like It. There the great Bard reminds us that life seems but a large play in which we are players who trade roles depending on the circumstances of our lives.  That is an apt description of life after the fall in which the truth is something we fear to address.  But not in the events of Holy Week.  The chancel is not a stage and we are not the actors.  The Word of the Lord is the story and Christ its center.  Let the cross be the focus.  Take care, dear friends, for our drama has no place in the unfolding story of our salvation.  Let it be Christ's story and His stage.

No comments: