March 30, 2015 by Worship, Community, Formation
Assuming you’re reading the right blog, you’ll have met more than one liturgical should-not in your life. They’re the kind of people who are there to let you know when you’ve strayed off the narrow path of ‘correct’ worship.
Liturgical should-nots have a special way of letting you know when you’re wrong. Sometimes it’s an icy look from the lectern when your child squawks. Sometimes it’s a sharp public reminder that no, the day after Good Friday is NOT called Easter Saturday. Sometimes it’s an acerbic aside about people who pray ‘huddled in the shampoo crouch’ rather than kneeling. Not long ago I wrote about a question submitted to the Church Times about the Peace. The original question (‘When did the Peace become a chaotic free-for-all?’) betrayed the attitude and tone of a liturgical should-not. Yes, liturgical should-nots know how all things related to worship should be done. Or not.
But I daren’t be be too scathing. Not only are liturgical should-nots God’s creatures too, but it’s a tendency I’m all to aware of in myself. Take my mental health back down a notch or two, and my own inner nit-picker would soon emerge.
Of course, there are ‘should-nots’ in every area of specialism. Like sycamore seedlings, they need little soil to take root. But liturgical should-nots are a particular challenge, because they’ve very much made liturgy their own, transforming a fertile field into an arid monoculture. They too often seem to have taken over the enitre territory of liturgy for themselves. And like sycamores, once they’re established, they stop other things growing.
Liturgical should-nots have taught us to imagine that liturgy is composed of its rules. They claim that there is a ‘right’ way of doing the liturgy, clearly marked out by the forms of worship and the traditions of the church. But liturgy in their hands is a heavy yoke; a burden on those who come to seek God. They have taught too many of us to believe that only by doing liturgy correctly does it have any value at all. Small wonder that many churches that pride themselves on being friendly and accessible to newcomers dispense with some or all of the liturgy to try to achieve that goal.
That we are willing to believe liturgy must be done correctly shows how far modern Westerners have drifted from the roots of faith. Our faith is something to be lived, not declared. Liturgy is not a magic with which we can please God, but a process for shaping ourselves by the will of our maker, closer to the nature of our saviour. Liturgy is formation. Through worship we begin to become what he wants us to: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14.15). Liturgy helps with that.
That’s because this entire train of thought was generated by a packet of hot cross buns. If you spend as much time in Sainsburys as I do, you see Hot Cross Buns from Boxing Day onwards. I LIKE hot cross buns, but each year I remind myself I mustn’t eat them until Good Friday. Why do I do that? Because somewhere along the line, some liturgical have-not has told me it would be wrong to do so. That cross on top is THE cross, of course, the one we remember on Good Friday.
I suppose there is something fundamentally liturgical about a hot cross bun. To a Christian, at least: how can we pick one up without thinking about the Crucifixion? Yet this Palm Saturday, I found myself, at last, thinking ‘this is ridiculous. SURELY I can eat hot cross buns on Palm Sunday.’
And the answer came immediately. ‘Of course you can’. Because Jesus – though he prayed that ‘this cup might pass’, in fact grasped the cup as much on Palm Sunday as he did on Good Friday – grasped it when he chose a donkey as his kingly steed; grasped it when he refused to give the crowd the command they longed for; an command that would launch a revolution.
In fact he grasped it with every single day of his ministry, because on every single day of his ministry he showed once again that he was willing to take up his cross. Each day was a homeless day. Each day was an open-to-what-comes day. Each day might bring angry scribes or Pharisees. Each day might bring crowds and broken people. Each day was given away to his Father’s world.
Perhaps what I learnt in that brief moment of half-prayer in Sainsbury’s was one aspect of what Peter learnt, when his vision (Acts 10.9-16) declared all foods clean. No more rules, I have written it on your heart. You will KNOW when to eat and when not to eat (Romans 14.6) – know from your own discipleship, for your own discipleship. Of course, there might be some days when to eat Hot Cross Buns would feel bizarre, but the spirit will tell you that. Otherwise, as I break this particular bread, I am likely to remember that I too am asked to take up my cross and follow Jesus, not once, but every day.
That’s what the liturgical should-nots would hide from us. The ability to worship with body, mind and spirit. To tune in with our sensibility. To let the word into our heart. Discipleship.