Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Value of Liturgy

At our church, we are currently in the season of Lent-the 40 days of reflection and repentance, culminating during Holy Week, prior to the Easter celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Today, after listening to a message about the words Christ spoke from the cross, I had an interesting experience on the way home. While scanning through radio stations on the way home, I heard an Easter song that was about the resurrection. This was not speaking in general terms of how Christ is alive and alive in all of us, but it was specifically about the events of the resurrection. Immediately, I thought, “Wait a minute, it’s not Easter yet.”

I grew up in an evangelical church. Now I serve in a mainline church. This interesting path in my journey has given me what I consider to be a “best of both worlds” perspective on the way many Christians approach their faith. Growing up, every Sunday was either Easter Sunday or Good Friday. We were constantly reminded of the sacrifice Christ paid for us and the subsequent resurrection. Which was not necessarily bad, but it caused us to focus only on certain elements of our faith. Every message, in some way or another, focused on these elements. Christmas messages were inadvertently Easter messages. Holy Week messages were Easter messages rather than messages about Christ’s suffering. But now I am in the mainline church and we follow the liturgical calendar. Our pastor doesn’t preach from the lectionary every week, but we do emphasize seasons of the church year, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. And while I didn’t understand this stuff growing up, now I understand the value of following these seasons. Though we still walk daily in the resurrection of Christ, it is important to be reminded of all the different aspects of the Christian faith. So here are some reasons I think liturgy is valuable.

  1. It makes our faith well-rounded. If I could describe my faith journey early on in one term, it would probably be one-dimensional. But by following the seasons of the church year, I am reminded of many different aspects of my faith, such as the coming of Christ into the world at Advent, or the wisdom that comes from God and is celebrated at Epiphany.

  1. Liturgy creates a sense of anticipation. While Christmas has its own sense of anticipation as we look at the presents that sit under the tree for the days and weeks leading up to it, liturgical seasons create a similar sense of anticipation in the hearts of the believer. As believers light the Advent Candles the weeks prior to Christmas, their hearts are awaiting the coming of the Christ child into the world. And while one may await Easter’s arrival, for the one who has given up something meaningful for Lent, Easter is that much sweeter.

  1. It connects us to our Jewish roots. In the Hebrew calendar, there were (and still are) numerous festivals and feasts commemorating many different events in their history and emphasizing numerous spiritual attitudes. And while many modern Christians only observe Christmas and Easter, observing the seasons of the church year connects us to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each season emphasizes different virtues and attributes that can be made meaningful to the worshiper.

  1. Liturgy also connects us with other believers. Any time people have a shared experience there is a bond between them. This is one reason Christmas is such a commercial holiday in our country. Some of the fondest memories many people have are things that happened during Christmases past. Liturgy allows us as a people to connect with other Christians around the world.

  1. Liturgy creates teaching opportunities for our children. When a child gets to walk down an aisle waving a palm leaf, or gets to help her mother light the Advent Candle, or gets to experience the pastor rubbing ashes on her forehead, it piques the curiosity she has in her family’s faith. This creates great opportunities for parents to teach their children about what they believe and why they believe it.

Whether we follow the seasons of the church calendar or are just a Christmas and Easter kind of peope, there is a lot that will go unnoticed and will be missed if we do not choose to make these spiritual concepts. Liturgy is not a magical script that will automatically move our hearts to a deeper faith. It is a tool that if used properly by the worshiper (not the pastor) in the right contexts will put believers in a position to deepen their faith. What experiences have you had (good or bad) with liturgy in worship?

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