Since I have enrolled in seminary, I have fallen in love.
No, I am not suggesting that I have fallen in love with a particular lady. No, I am not suggesting that I have fallen in love with the cuisine of central Kentucky (although I do fancy the fried chicken). No, I am not speaking about how I have fallen in love with the campus and community (although that is also true).
Instead, I have fallen in love with liturgy.
This is a strange statement for a person who comes from a low-church, evangelical tradition. As a person who grew up in church with modern praise songs and worship choruses rather than hymns, where the pastor could be found in a polo and jeans, this is a surprise (even to myself). I always considered liturgy to be for someone else and I never thought that I would fall prey to that stuffy, “old-time” religion. Little did I know that I would fall more and more in love with tradition, routine, repetition, and symbolism.
In an effort to reflect on this transition in my life, I share below what has drawn me to “more” liturgical forms of worship:
1. “Practice makes permanent”
Many of us have heard the phrase “practice makes perfect” or “perfect practice makes perfect”. However, there is perhaps an even better phrase that explains why practice is so important: “practice makes permanent“. This means that repetition of something ingrains it in our bodies, minds, and hearts.
This is one of the benefits that I find in liturgy. There is a repetition to liturgy that causes the words that are said and the actions that are performed to become burned onto our hearts. It is something that is not easily forgotten. Similar to the “Pledge of Allegiance” or the “Lord’s Prayer”, we say the liturgy so many times that we know it by heart and there is no possible way that we could forget it. No matter where we go, no matter what we do, the words and the actions found in the liturgy can be recalled at an instant; the liturgy has become a part of us forever.
This is important because when the liturgy is stamped on our minds and hearts the story can be recalled. If you take a look at many liturgies, especially Eucharistic (Communion) liturgies, the story of God and his people is retold through words and actions. Therefore, if you have memorized the liturgy (although at times it may seem rote) you have also memorized the story of God and the part that we, the church, play in that story. The repeating of the story of God and his people is something that is invaluable for the church today; especially as we seem to lose our way among the tossing and turning of our culture, where there is no stability or repetition.
2. Ye Old-Time Religion
By “old-time religion” I am not thinking of the 20th century; I am thinking of the ancient church. I am thinking of religion that stretches back into the early history of the Christian faith.
I like the “old-timey” religion because it connects me to the larger church. It reminds me that the Christian faith did not begin yesterday. It grounds me in years of faithfulness, beginning with early Christianity and leading up through the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist movements. The liturgy, those words that we say in the service, are words that others in the past have also said. By participating in liturgy, I am participating in something that millions of people across time and space have also participated in. That’s a pretty awesome thought.
3. It Requires Participation
Most churches that I have attended have tended toward a grave mistake in worship: performance. By this, I mean that when you attend an evangelical service, you will most likely be met by people singing on stage, a charismatic leader who will get up and preach a sermon, and then you will be sent off into the world having just attended a delightful show. As a person who sits in the pews (or chairs) who does not serve on the worship team or preach a sermon, you most likely do not participate in the service besides singing along with the songs.
The use of liturgy in a worship service proves to be counter-cultural to this passivity in worship. The very word “liturgy”, in Christian worship, means “the work of the people”. This means that when liturgical worship is employed, no one is a passive bystander. Everyone is expected to participate in worship. On the other hand, when liturgical worship is used, it means that no one is performing. Instead, every single person is participating in the worship service. No person is passive and no person gets to “show off”.
4. In Liturgical Worship We Are Unified
This does not mean that through low-church worship that people cannot be unified. But, through the use of liturgical worship, we ensure that our worship is communal, rather than individualistic. By this, I meant that when a group of people say things together, reciting creeds, prayers, and praise in unison, we are not able to be separated from the person sitting next to us. All of a sudden, through a common creed, we are bound together, setting aside our differences, and affirming our faith. When we lift our voices in unison, we get the amazing opportunity to lift each other up, reminding each other of the faith that we share (even when some of us feel particularly weary or faithless). When we say the liturgy together, we cannot help but put aside our preferences in order to come together as the people of God.
These are but just a few reasons why liturgical worship has appealed to me. I hope that this post has either: a) renewed your love for liturgical worship; or b) prodded you to reconsider liturgical forms of worship. There is much to be gained from the liturgies that have been passed down through the generations and I hope that you will take the time to search their treasures.
If you are not sure where to start, I would encourage you to look into one of the most important liturgical books of all time, The Book of Common Prayer. This book is well worth perusing through because it is filled with prayers and liturgies as well as with uplifting words that may bring new vocabulary and expression to your faith.
May you be blessed as you explore the liturgy and liturgical forms of worship!