OK, I’m back from hols and ready to get blogging again. Where were we? This stuff called ‘liturgy’ which so few of us seem to understand or like is natural, essential, and can be beautiful. So what else? I want to suggest today that it can really help us to keep balanced in our worship. Let me explain.
What are we supposed to do when we come together to worship? Since the earliest times of the church, and before that in the Jewish Temple and Synagogue traditions, there has been some kind of an expectation about the sort of ingredients which ought to be there in order for our worship to be well-constituted. This became formalised in set liturgies of the kind against which C21 Christians have so often reacted, with some justification. But even now that the official Anglican line is to be much more flexible, there is much we can learn about keeping our worship balanced.
I can remember a comment made about an act of worship in the era of charismatic renewal. ‘We didn’t once look outside the four walls of the room’, said my critic, and I had to agree. I began to think about services I attended with this comment in mind, and I realised that for so many of the so-called ‘acts of worship’ we had not once confessed our sins, listened to God’s written word, interceded for the world around us, interacted in any way with each other, or even used the prayer Jesus himself taught us to pray. Instead we had sung songs about me and Jesus, and heard a ‘sermon’ which alluded vaguely to odd bits of scripture. Then we sung some more songs.
I want to suggest that a diet like this long term isn’t healthy for us. If our worship doesn’t remind us of our standing before God, and encourage us to deal with everything which gets in the way; if it doesn’t help us to listen deeply to and engage with Scripture; if it doesn’t help us to look around us to the world out there for which we are called to intercede, then it is failing in its task. And above all, if it doesn’t send us out to engage with society so that we help make the world a better place, why on earth are we doing it at all? Those of us who use SU Bible notes will have read Isaiah 61 this morning. The climax of the chapter is God’s desire to see righteousness and praise spring up together. We’re not bad in the church at doing one or the other, but that simply isn’t good enough.
Of course you don’t have to use words out of a book to do all the above: really creative worship planning can include all these elements using songs and spontaneous prayer (although sadly it rarely does, in my recent experience). But at the very least to think liturgically, to have in mind a checklist of the ingredients we ought to be putting into our worship mix, can be a very helpful thing in keeping our worship balanced. And who knows? The odd prayer for us all to join in together might prove a helpful thing.