Sunday, December 15, 2019

Beauty is not an end. . .

Beauty is not an end in and of itself.  At least not for Christianity.  Beauty and goodness are always in service to the truth of God.  Their power to encourage and restore the faith lie not in themselves but in their service to the Gospel.  Like music the handmaid to the Word, so does beauty reflect the eternal beauty of the Gospel, giving to the eye a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in the cross and empty tomb.  That does not in any way diminish the role and purpose of beauty and excellence in service to the faith.  Just the opposite.  The highest good is to serve Christ.  Beauty and excellence find their proper role and glory in service to Christ. 

But how do they serve Christ?  To honor the Lord and serve the cause of the faith, beauty and excellence points to the doctrine of the faith, borne of Scripture's unchanging Word, that finds its fullest glory in the redemptive work of Christ.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  Faith and prayer, worship and belief go hand in hand.  Yet doctrine is not only words on the page.  We learn, we confess, and we worship through signs and symbols — above all, the Church’s liturgy where the sign and symbol of bread and wine convey what they signify!  The sad reality, however, is that the experience of the liturgy from the vantage point of the pews does not correspond to the lofty words [doctrine] written on paper.  This is not simply a disappointment but a challenge to the Church.

The attention given to the content and craft of the preacher, the excellence of text, music, and (in the best sense of this word) performance, and the setting with its beauty and reflection of the most noble and wondrous mystery all work together for the benefit of the Church and the witness to the world.  So the work to make sure that the liturgy is beautiful to see and to hear and reverent to what takes place within the liturgy serves the mission of the Church and instills within us an appreciation for and an awareness of the the sacredness of God's mighty act of deliverance through His Son.

It would do well for us to hear more sermons on this.  Frequent preaching on the liturgy and the sung Scripture that is the liturgy, how to receive the Lord's body and blood worthily, how best to prepare for our communion, the practiced skill of presiding and the various assistants (from deacon to acolyte to usher) -- all of these are fitting topics for the benefit of the people in the pews and the world watching us from afar.  Church etiquette is not simply the domain of the fastidious but the way we honor the Lord.  From the profoundness of silence (of which there is little anymore) to the way we dress to our demeanor with the technological devices deemed so essential to modern day life, we show forth our faith and honor the Lord for all He has accomplished for us.

In too many cases, we have forgotten the nobility of beauty in service to the Gospel.  So we have justified warehouses instead of churches as the places where people gather to meet the Lord in the means of grace and borrowed music from the secular realm to provide a seamless transition between the sacred and the secular.  This has left our people not only confused but lost in a sea of gray without the Light of Christ to shine upon the way.  We need to restore the Church to her rightful place where all human arts and crafts are given the patronage of the faith so that they might find their fulfillment in service to the Gospel within the Sunday liturgies in ordinary parishes. As the faith once inspired the genius of so many artists and artisans for centuries, so do we need to employ their talents and skills to lift souls to God's gracious acts of deliverance for a people so often left to wrestle with the ugliness strife, struggle, scandal, and shame that have marked our lives.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Movement is meaningful. I take it you will react differently if someone either blows you a kiss or flips you off (sorry for the crassness). Dress is meaningful. You wouldn’t be invited into the presence of someone you deem highly important, and wear dirty yard-work clothes. Proper speech is beautiful. Someone cursing you will elicit a different response than a compliment. Yet, all these things are servants of their meaning. The Liturgy is the servant of it’s meaning and purpose, Jesus Christ.