A series written from an ecumenical standpoint. This is a resource center or clearing house for all sorts of theology and biblical studies meant to be a compilation of theology in ecumenical dialogue.

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Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 3.4 “Sabbath.”

For the Christian, it is a routine struggle to tell time accurately and appropriately. We live in a fast-paced, high-tech, sound-bit driven, communicate in 140-characters or less, advertising-saturated world. Between smart phones, tablets, smart watches, and smart televisions, it is near impossible to remain separated from the rest of connected civilization. One could easily argue that our time-telling abilities are therefore also affected. To suggest just a few methods, time might be told according to the Julian calendar, to the solar/lunar calendar, or by social occurrences (Game of Thrones starts tonight, or tomorrow night is the “big game”). It is not that these things are inherently bad, but that rather than pointing to the One who made time, they point inward, to the self and to triviality. Channeling Luther and Augustine, we are a world constantly bent in on ourselves. How, then, can and should Christians tell time?

Without overstating the obvious, time is a tool of measurement marking the duration from one event to another. We keep time to assess our passage around the sun, our rotation on the earth’s axis, or the days between events such as our engagement and marriage rite. Alternatively, the Gospel of John orients time around the days of the week leading both to and from the resurrection of Jesus. The church has told time according to Caesar’s calendar for too long.

Embedded in liturgical time is the concept of sabbath. Both the liturgical calendar and the Mass are intimately connected with the biblical principle of sabbath rest and holy worship. The center of the Christian calendar is Easter, and the center of the week is worship on the Lord’s Day. The way that we tell time, as believers, is based on these high points. We focus almost exclusively on the “highs” of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We hear sermons preached about living from Sunday to Sunday. Yet, before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday; sandwiched between Cross and Resurrection is the rest and waiting of Holy Saturday. Rest and worship, participation and community, year and week cannot be separated.

The weekend has become a respite from physical labor rather than a holy sabbath given over to worshipping the Lord on his day. Learning to tell time liturgically is therefore an immersion into the salvation narrative of Jesus of Nazareth and is an active form of resistance against the rulers, powers, and authorities fighting for our primary allegiance. Liturgical time is not an alternative or counter-cultural form of marking the passing of days but is rather telling time as it really is. Even more than resistance, for the act of resisting seemingly places another in the role of primary agent/actor, sabbath is a form of participation in and engagement with the life and work of Jesus and the ongoing ministry of his body, the church.

Sabbath

The themes of rest and sabbath are integral to the Bible, central to Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, and are still placed upon the church and the Christian as activities befitting believers. YHWH commanded his people on the slopes of Sinai to observe the sabbath and keep it holy.1 Bear in mind that YHWH gave the Law to a people already redeemed. This command would form the heart of Israel’s calling as she would pause every seventh day to rest, to pray, to worship. Her trade and commerce would cease; her movements would come to a shattering and silent halt; Israel looked radically different from the other civilizations of the world. YHWH states from the onset that he was freeing the Hebrews from Egypt that they might be his people and worship him in the desert.2

Throughout the Old Testament we find more rules and regulations surrounding sabbath, and the New Testament provides a picture of 2nd Temple Judaism in which sabbath observance is still of the utmost importance. The Pharisees constantly attack Jesus and his followers for their lack of proper observance. Jesus heals on the sabbath and the Pharisees, those devoted protectors of the Law, would have him thrown out or silenced completely.3 By using the example of David and his men entering the temple to eat the consecrated bread as an example, Jesus’ response is poignantly simple: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”4 In a sense, sabbath had become the object of worship for the Pharisees and portions of the Jewish population. Whereas YHWH created the sabbath as a both a form of rest for his weary and already-redeemed-people and as the time set aside for worship, the religious leaders had placed sabbath above all other principles thereby inadvertently establishing yet another form of religious oppression.

Liturgical Time – Church Calendar

Even in her earliest centuries, the nascent church was already forming a calendar according to a different set of events and guiding principles. The measurement tool was no longer chronos (minutes, days, years, etc.)—though it certainly involved this method. The new standard for measuring time was the life and work of Jesus. The early Church understood Easter to be the central event in history, the hinge upon which the whole of history turns; and it certainly became the center of the liturgical year.5 Placed at the center of the calendar, Easter thus gave meaning and placement to every other liturgical day, feast, fast, and rite.6 Beginning with the season of Advent, the Christian calendar traverses through the story of Jesus as follows: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost, Ordinary Time. This takes place every year. Without question, without fail. A glaring omission from any conversation about Easter or liturgical time is Holy Saturday. As Christians, particularly evangelically shaped Christians—for better or for worse—in the West, we are quick to focus on Cross and Resurrection. What about the beautiful tension that is Holy Saturday? YHWH rested on the seventh day of the week after his work of creation was completed. Jesus rests in the tomb after his work upon the cross is complete. The pathway from cross to empty tomb, from throne to resurrection is through sabbath, through rest.

The Orthodox Church highlights another significant Saturday in the liturgical calendar that receives little to no recognition from Protestants and other liturgical traditions. Lazarus Saturday is the day before Palm Sunday on which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead en route to the palms, the Last Supper, the cross, and the empty tomb. The significance and meaning that Lazarus Saturday has on Palm Sunday is astounding and yet it is never mentioned—or at least rarely so—by those outside of the Orthodox Church. For it was on this sabbath that another body lay resting in the tomb, another family mourned their loss, another bit of proof that death affects us all. And yet Jesus comes to Mary and Martha, he announces himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and he raises Lazarus on the sabbath. There was to be no work on the sabbath and yet Jesus does what no one else can: he brings the dead back to life. It is then, and only then, that he rides into Jerusalem humbly triumphant.

Liturgical Time – Weekly and Daily Office

Christians do not simply tell time on an annual basis. The Christian life is centered around two smaller circles, as well: the weekly and daily offices. Central to the week is Sunday worship; every Sunday is a little Easter and calls to memory the victory and joy that is the Resurrection.7 The passage of time is not from one Sunday to the next—that is shallow Christianity, a hollow and vacuous version of what we know to be true. This is a short excerpt on the meaning and function of Sunday in the Christian calendar:

Sunday is the first day of the week and the first day of creation. It is the day of the Sun of Righteousness, given that Saturday is the sabbath, the day of rest. It is the third day, because it was on Sunday that our Lord was raised from the grave, having conquered sin, death, and the devil; having “trampled down death by death,” he was raised to new life, echoing his bold claim from earlier in John’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Finally, Sunday is the eighth day because the resurrection changes everything: it is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. It is the breaking in of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. John marks his Gospel according to days, and the Sunday of the resurrection is both a continuation of the first day but also its fulfillment.8

This is taken from the picture given by John’s Gospel and it represents the uniqueness of Sunday. To arrive at each Sunday, however, one must first go through sabbath rest.

Similarly, the Daily Office has Sunday as its referent. That is, Sunday worship is the blueprint for observing Morning and Evening Prayer (or Matins, Lauds, Vespers, etc. if you are particularly adventurous). Embedded deep within the rhythm of daily prayer are pauses, periods of silence, and rest. The very act of praying throughout the day can be seen as a mini-sabbath or rest because it represents the cessation of all other activity in order to devote oneself to prayer, meditation, and worship.

Formed By Sabbath

The church calendar and the Christian life should be informed and shaped by both the joy of Easter Sunday and the rest of Holy Saturday. It is in fact the connection between the two that leads to participation, to worship, to whole and holy living because at the core, liturgical time is about participation in the life and love of Christ. The early church told time differently than the Romans and oppressive emperors surrounding them; indeed their timekeeping may be viewed by some as subversive, counter-cultural, and resistant, but that would be putting the cart in front of the horse. Just as the Eucharist may have a political element to it, or can be understood through political or social lenses from time to time, the point of the Eucharist is not first and foremost political. It is worship. Nothing more, nothing less. Liturgical time is participation before it can be considered resistance.

The question, Christian, then becomes simple: how do you tell time? In what narrative of the world are you actively participating? Our cue must be taken from our worship practices, from the liturgies that form and shape us, from the deep structures and rhythms of our week and calendar. We, as Christians, are a people of worship but can we truly claim to be a people of sabbath? Our weekends are filled to overflowing with sporting events, yardwork, chores, duties, tasks, and more. We set aside an hour, perhaps two at most, for Sunday worship but very little more than that. Observing sabbath, however, shows that the rat race of life does not win in God’s kingdom, that timekeeping is done on another level, and that we can afford to give over our time in worship to God even if the rest of the world thinks us foolish, irresponsible, or different.

Sabbath is a time of pregnant pauses, anxious awaiting, and emotion-filled worship. It is the gift of time back to the Timekeeper because the day given to prayer is one less day afforded for work and monetary/economic gain. It represents an alignment or re-ordering of values according to heavenly principles rather than earthly standards.


Endnotes

1 Exodus 20:8

2 Exodus 7:16

3 N T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, North American ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 432.

4 Mark 2:27-28

5 Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1991), 1.

6 An Orthodox priest once commented to me that he could fill out the whole of the liturgical calendar if he was given but one date: Easter. The knowledge of Easter’s date in any given year would allow him to fill out the rest of the calendar because liturgical time is consistent, it is measured, and it is formative.

7 Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 13-14, 70.

8 This was originally written in a post for The Living Church. The whole piece can be accessed here: http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/11/20/learning-to-tell-time-liturgically/

A post by guest contributor, Dr. Eugene R. Schlesinger, Santa Clara University

It’s hard to find something that raises the hackles of Evangelical Christians quicker than the suggestion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice offered to God, unless it’s the suggestion that in addition to being a sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of Christ offered to God. Is this not the height of the vain superstitions from which the Reformers purified the church? Doesn’t such an idea call into doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross for human salvation? Didn’t Anglicans in particular reject this idea when Article Thirty-One of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion said:

The Offering of Christ once made in that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits?

Well, maybe. But to my mind these questions are not the point. I am not going to address them directly. Instead, I want to do a bit of ressourcement—a retrieval of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Liturgy, to establish not only that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and has been understood that way from the beginning, but that recovering the notion of eucharistic sacrifice is important for Evangelical Christians precisely because of a concern about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

Sacrifice at the Origins of the Eucharist

So, first, my claim that the Eucharist has been understood as a sacrifice from the very beginning. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, allow me to refer readers to three important studies: Kenneth Stevenson’s Eucharist and Offering (Pueblo, 1986); Andrew McGowan’s Ascetic Eucharists (Oxford, 1999), and Rowan Williams’s Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Roots of a Metaphor (Grove, 1982). These books show just how early in the tradition the Eucharist was discussed as a sacrifice. In fact, it was sometimes described as a sacrifice without any explicit mention of Christ’s body and blood, or the sacrifice of the cross.

McGowan, in particular demonstrates that it was inevitable for the Eucharist to be conceived as a sacrifice because of its character as a meal in antiquity. Pretty much any public meals in the Græco-Roman milieu were inextricable from sacrifices. This, of course, recalls Paul’s concerns about meat sacrificed to idols when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). More than this, though, when we read Paul’s contrast between the Table of the Lord and the Table of the Demons in 1 Corinthians 10:18-22 with this knowledge in the background, we see that Paul is actually contrasting one sacrificial meal with another. Christians don’t partake in sacrificial meals associated with demons because they take part in a sacrificial meal associated with Christ.

Augustine and True Sacrifice

The contrast between the Eucharist and sacrifices offered to demons is also central to Augustine of Hippo’s thought. Augustine has inherited a long tradition of thinking of the Eucharist in sacrificial terms. What’s especially interesting, though, is this: his use of sacrificial language is limited almost entirely to contexts where he is opposing worship offered to demons (e.g., De Trinitate IV and XIII), or speaking about the Eucharist (Confessions IX, Sermons 227 and 272), or both (City of God X, Confessions X, Sermon 198). In other contexts, he uses other concepts to describe Christ’s death. Sacrifice, though, was especially suited to his anti-demon polemic and to his eucharistic thought.

As he explains in book 10 of City of God, sacrifice should be offered to God alone, and not to demons. He was particularly concerned with the practice of theurgy, which, according to Platonists such as Porphyry and Apuleius, would allow its practitioners to be purified by means of sacrificial offerings designed to secure the help of demons. In contrast to sacrifices offered to demons, Augustine insists that Christians have but one sacrifice, which is Christ’s, and that only God should receive sacrifice.

He further explains, by appealing to the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 51), that true sacrifice is a matter of the heart. A visible and material gift is given as a sacramentum of the invisible sacrifice that God truly requires. Indeed, a true sacrifice is any act of mercy that is undertaken in order to bind together humanity with God in a holy fellowship so that we might be truly blessed (City of God, X.6). He goes further, though, to explain that the one true sacrifice was offered by Christ on the cross so that he might be the head of his body the church, and so that the whole redeemed city could be offered to God by him as the high priest.That last transition is an important one, because it shows that for Augustine sacrifice is not just something that happened to the historical Jesus, but something that is going to happen to the church as a whole. He conceives of our final salvation as a sacrifice where we are offered to God by Christ. And he understands this offering to be at one with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The key insight behind this idea is Augustine’s understanding of the church as the totus Christus, the whole Christ, head and members.

Augustine’s thought here is, of course, deeply indebted to the Pauline image of the church as the body of Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10 – 12; Ephesians 1:15-23). Suffice it to say that for Augustine, salvation is a matter of us returning to God, and that this return happens because we are united to Christ as members of his body. Sacrifice is one of the ways that he talks about that return.

We need to take two more steps to get where we’re going with this. First, immediately after he talks about the church as a whole being offered as a sacrifice to God, he also says that this sacrifice is the one offered on Christian altars, namely the Eucharist (City of God, X.6). Later in the same book, he’ll say that the Eucharist is a daily sacramentum of Christ’s sacrifice, through which the church learns to offer itself (City of God, X.20). This is important, because earlier he identifies the pious acts and ethical lives of Christians as sacrifices (City of God, X.3). Once more this is a very Pauline idea. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins the entire ethical section of the letter by describing ethics as a sacrifice offered to God.

Second, because of all the work he’s just done with the totus Christus, such that the sacrifice of the cross, of the whole church, and of the Eucharist are really one sacrifice of Christ, the lives of the faithful are themselves interior to the sacrifice of Christ. This is because the faithful are Christ’s members.

Conclusion: Eucharistic Sacrifice or Semi-Pelagianism

Here’s the point to which I’ve been driving, Augustine provides us with a way of synthesizing Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” with 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And this synthesis is vital. Because it allows us to talk about our moral behavior in a way that is connected with Christ’s one sacrifice. Apart from a synthesis like that, we have two options before us. Either we envision spiritual benefits coming to us from a source other than Christ’s sacrifice, or we completely sever any ethical dimension from Christianity.

If the Eucharist spiritually benefits us, it must, somehow, be Christ’s sacrifice, because this is the only source of salvation. If our ethical lives are of spiritual benefit, they must be connected to Christ’s sacrifice, otherwise we are left with a Pelagianism where our moral conduct benefits us apart from grace, or with a semi-Pelagianism where our moral conduct is purely a response to grace. The Augustinian account of eucharistic sacrifice I’ve sketched here allows us to uphold the benefit of the Eucharist and the importance of our moral lives, even as it upholds the bedrock Evangelical commitment that salvation is to be found only in the sacrifice of Christ.

The Eucharist is not a repetition of Calvary, and it’s important to realize that this has never been the teaching of any church. The Eucharist is not a re-sacrificing of Christ any more than our moral lives are a re-sacrifice of Christ. There is but one sacrifice which Christ offered once for all. It is through this sacrifice that he returns us to God. And in the eucharistic sacrifice, he brings us and our lives into that one sacrifice so that through him we may once more come to God. Through his one sacrifice, he transforms our lives into a sacrifice pleasing to God, a sacrifice which is only pleasing to God because it is united to his own.

Eugene Schlesinger is Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. The author of Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press, 2017) and Sacrificing the Church: Mass, Mission, and Ecumenism (forthcoming from Lexington Books/Fortress Academic), and the editor of Covenant, he understands his vocation to be an Episcopalian who does Catholic theology. He is a systematic theologian by training and, works primarily at the intersection of ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Since discovering Augustine of Hippo, much of his intellectual energy has been devoted to recovering the relevance of a theology of sacrifice for understanding “God, the universe, and everything,” which will be the subject matter of his next book (currently in progress). He is a committed Thomist insofar as he believes that understanding is good, and that being is intelligible, and he strives to belong to what Bernard Lonergan described as a “perhaps not numerous center.”

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This piece was written by Dr. Bruce Morill of Vanderbilt University for another website. Dr. Morrill has granted me permission to post it here on my blog in its entirety. While much of what is contained below may be for a specifically Catholic audience, I do believe that the Second Vatican Council and all subsequent writings and reflections out to drive us to closer ecumenical efforts and study. Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century deserve deeper study and understanding in our current context.

May we heed our Lord’s prayer in John 17 and strive to be one as He and the Father are one.

Positives and Negatives in the Liturgy Today

Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., Edward A. Malloy Professor of Catholic Studies, Vanderbilt University

At Pierre Hegy’s invitation, I offer these brief remarks about what I perceive to be positive and negative conditions in the ongoing reform and renewal of the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II.

A singular achievement in the reformed Roman Rite is the installation of the proclaimed word of God—readings of Scripture, homilies, responsorial psalms and general intercessions—as integral to each and all of the rites, not only the seven sacraments but the full surfeit of related rites and prayers (as in, e.g., the Order of Christian Funerals, Pastoral Care of the Sick, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults). By mandating “more ample, more varied, and more suitable reading from sacred scripture” for all “sacred celebrations” (SC 35) and most explicitly and in detail concerning the Mass (cf. SC 51-53), the Council finally set a course for the Roman Catholic Church positively to embrace one of the most positive instincts and arguments of the Protestant Reformers.

With the Sunday celebration retaining and even increasing its predominant role in the church’s post-conciliar liturgical life, the creation and implementation of the Lectionary for Mass has had a singular impact on the faith and imaginations of the people in the pews, as well as many of the clergy. The people’s hearing (in the vernacular) the full expanse of each of the four gospels over repeated three-year cycles (the three synoptic gospels through Ordinary Time, the fourth gospel in each Lenten-Easter cycle and as a supplement to Mark) has over time shaped how they encounter Christ in the liturgy of the Eucharist. The goal of ample liturgies of the word is to enrich and expand people’s images of the Christ they gather around, worship, and receive in holy communion, a Christ not reduced merely to a static figure of tortured death for undeserving sinners but, rather, a uniquely divine-Spirit-filled person sharing a fierce but tender life-giving love for poor humanity unto death.

In practice, of course, the quality of the proclaiming has varied widely: Many parishes work hard at forming lectors as effective conveyers of the living biblical word, while one still comes upon not a few places where the readings are rushed or poorly audible or compromised in other ways. And people, young and old, are often distracted from or even poorly attuned to the snippets of Old Testament and epistolary texts coming at them. But such is the real human scene, and such is the kenotic character of the God who works redemption from within our flawed humanity. But then, also, there is the seemingly intractable, persistent malaise in the clergy’s preaching, albeit again with numerous, occasionally stellar, exceptions. The resurgent disease of clericalism (about which, more below) has played no small part in the ever-decreasing percentage of U.S. Catholics choosing to participate weekly (or even monthly) in the Sunday celebration. Still, as a pastoral minister and theological educator, I have been consoled over the years by people’s pointed questions about why their non-Catholic Christian spouse cannot receive holy communion or why canon law or other disciplines severely restrict sharing at the Eucharistic table. They protest that the Jesus they have come to know and love in the gospel stories at Mass is notable (and rebuked by religious leaders and other self-righteous characters) for his dining with sinners and telling parables about what a world ruled by a merciful and just God looks like.

Giving ourselves over to the mystery (including messiness) of the Gospel requires humble faith and constantly hungry perseverance, for sure. No wonder Tridentine Roman Catholicism, even as late as the early twentieth-century, forbad the laity from reading the Bible. The word of God quickly spins religious institutionalism out of control. Not that the laity are somehow pure or perfect in their readings and hearings of the word; cultural pressures such as consumerism, individualism, nationalism, chauvinisms, etc., readily wound the body of Christ in its members—both clerical and lay. The clergy’s pastoral charge, nonetheless, is to listen to the world in which they would speak the word. They must “smell of the sheep,” in the pithy admonitory phrase of Pope Francis. Seminaries, he has likewise averred, must stop “inflicting little monsters on the people of God.”

The sad negative fact about the state of liturgical reform and renewal fifty years on is that it has been hobbled and, as of the 1980s, curtailed by the persistence of clericalism in the leadership and ranks of those ordained to preside over and preach at the rites. The lamentable outcome of the 1970 synod of bishops concerning the priesthood arguably clipped the wings of the liturgical reform from the start. However high the quality of much liturgical scholarship and wise the judicious proposals of many pastoral liturgists, these have proven largely impotent in the face of the ideology of the priesthood (including the way the crucified and risen Christ Jesus is portrayed as priest and, accordingly, the contemporary Roman Catholic priest as acting in persona Christi). The debacle of the process and official result of the current English-language Roman Missal provides the latest evidence, while revisiting the Vatican’s detailed, “abuse”-obsessed instruction on the celebration of the Mass, Redemptionis sacramentum (2004), provides all the insights one needs into why and how clerical ideology rules the liturgy.

Liturgy, however divinely inspired, is nonetheless human ritual. Human ritual evades reasonable arguments. After all, we humans ritualize precisely in all those circumstances wherein we cannot rationalize, cannot clearly explain. Ambiguity is at the heart of all ritualizing; thus, I have slowly come to learn not to be surprised at how readily Roman Catholics—left and right, radical-traditionalist and progressive, clerical and lay—become upset when trying to explain or defend or advocate change in the Mass (and to lesser degrees of interest, the other rites of the church). Would that all “sides” of the church might get a fair hearing in this continued era of reform, such that renewal might yet begin again.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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This is a guest post from Dr. Eugene Schlesinger, lecturer at Santa Clara University, a Rev. John P. Raynor, SJ Fellow at Marquette University from 2015-2016, author, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology with Fortress Press. It was originally posted on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. Dr. Schlesinger is also contributed a fantastic essay on Fr. Alexander Schmemann and ressourcement in my edited volume, We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee.

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post in the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” Stay tuned for more fantastic content like this!

Ressourcement or Reinventing the Wheel

Perhaps the most significant event in my theological development was getting fired from the church I’d helped plant, whose culture I’d helped to shape, and to which I’d devoted three years of my life.[1] For the five years between my seminary education and the beginning of my doctoral studies, I served in pastoral ministry. Most of it was at an Evangelical church plant. We were a missional church: seeking to live out a missionary vocation in all areas of life as individual Christians and as a congregation. One of the ways this played out in the church’s life was in a drive to try new things and find better ways of “being the church.”

During my time at this church, I fell in love with the liturgy,[2] and found it to be an incredible source of renewal in my life. As I experienced liturgical renewal, I sought to share this with my congregation, bringing liturgical elements into our worship. While some parishioners found this a source of refreshment, plenty of others found it unacceptable. I was consistently told that we couldn’t adopt liturgy because we were a missional church. Liturgy was “Catholic” (in a negative sense) and probably “legalistic,” and certainly not missional. I could never figure out why liturgical worship and missional ecclesiology were incompatible. Eventually it became clear that my theological convictions and my vision of the church were no longer compatible with this church, and the ministry relationship ended, and I found a new ecclesial home as an Anglican.

Evangelicals and the Reinvented Wheel

As I delved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I realized that so much of Evangelicals’ efforts at finding new ways of being the church were really just reinventing the wheel. For instance, what were multi-site churches with a head pastor if not dioceses overseen by a bishop? But there was a crucial difference, the Evangelical reinvention of the episcopate lacked a coherent theological rationale, and a connection to the historic succession that grants Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops their validity. Beyond this, a historical ignorance had kept us from recognizing what we were doing, and kept us flying blind. We didn’t realize that the church had long ago figured out about bishops, and might have wisdom about how this aspect of the church’s life should be ordered. Instead, we were stuck making things up as we went along.

The impulse for renewal, and even novelty, was a good thing. As Irenaeus wrote, so long ago, Christ brought all newness when he brought himself (Against Heresies 4.34.1). Genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will always result in renewal, and so when church life grows stagnant, something is badly wrong. This lies behind the call for a new evangelization that has arisen within the Catholic Church over the last several decades. But apart from some sort of historical awareness and engagement with the tradition, the impulse towards renewal quickly devolves into novelty for novelty’s sake, and winds up being a shallow renewal indeed.

An Alternative: Ressourcement

And so I thought: What if instead of just making stuff up, we looked to the church’s traditions to find the answers for how we do things? Without realizing it at the time, I was setting out on the path of ressourcement. At its heart, ressourcement is a strategy of retrieval, returning to the sources that lie at the heart of the church’s heritage: Scripture, the liturgy, and the church fathers. In the first half of the twentieth-century, several French Catholic theologians sought to perform such a retrieval in order to breathe new life into the somewhat dry and dusty theological life of the church. Their approach was not well-received at first. It was dismissed as la nouvelle théologie (the new theology), and Henri de Lubac, a key proponent of “the new theology” was censored and forbidden from teaching theology for nearly ten years. History has vindicated him, though, at the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops), and was eventually made a Cardinal.

Here the point isn’t with the history of ressourcement, though, but the instinct that drives it: a turn to the past, in light of current problems, with an eye to the future.

Eventually I undertook doctoral studies, intent on resolving this question of whether or not a liturgical church could also be a missional church. Certain missional theologians warn that a focus on the church’s liturgical life will distract it from its missional identity and vocation.[3] Faced with this criticism we have three options: we can ignore them, go the dead-end route of wheel reinvention (get rid of the liturgy and find new ways of being the church), or the way of ressourcement, returning to the sources at the heart of traditional ecclesiology and find in them a source of missional renewal.

If we ignore their criticisms, we miss an opportunity for renewal. Even Pope Francis has called for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the church, and called for a re-evaluation of every aspect the church’s life to be sure that we are living faithfully to our missionary vocation.[4] Rather than ignoring these missional criticisms, we need to see them as an opportunity to more faithfully articulate who and what the church has always been.

My book with Fortress Press, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology takes this route of ressourcement and uses traditional sources: Scripture, the church fathers, and the liturgy, to construct a missional ecclesiology. By returning to the sources, I show that a missionary understanding of the church has always been implicit in them. The presenting problem of missional criticisms of the liturgy proves to be an opportunity to make this implicit understanding of the church more explicit.

The thing I want us to see here, though, is not just the liturgy-mission conundrum I resolve in my book. I think that’s an important problem to address, but I raise it to show the ongoing importance of ressourcement for the church. The church is in need of continual renewal. But the way to that renewal is not by abandoning the past as something “old,” and “irrelevant.” Instead, it’s a turn to the past, in light of our current problems, with an eye to the future. I’ll say frankly, ignoring or rejecting the past is the way for churches to lose their Christian identity, and be subject to whatever cultural whims, personal predilections, or ideological forces they happen to encounter. At the same time, ressourcement is not a call to just “do what we’ve always done,” instead, it’s a return to the past to rediscover things we’ve forgotten, but desperately need to remember

We are not slaves to the past, uncritically repeating what’s come before. But if we ignore the past, we’ll simply be slaves of the present moment, to the spirit of the age. A proper engagement with the church’s tradition brings renewal through the Holy Spirit, who has breathed life into Christ’s body for the last two millenia.

[1] I wasn’t formally “fired” from the position, but I was, essentially shown the door. None of what I’m writing here is by way of complaint against that church. I’ve made my peace with what happened. Instead, the events that led to my departure from the church also set me on the path to discovering the importance of ressourcement.

[2] I’m going to go against my own preference here and use “liturgy” in a more restrictive sense: namely formal, set liturgies grounded in particular texts (such as a Breviary, Missal, or the Book of Common Prayer). Every church has a liturgy, though. There aren’t liturgical and non-liturigcal churches. Some of us are just honest about it. However, it makes for really clunky writing to belabor this.

[3] E.g., John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene: Cascade, 2009).

[4] See his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.

Last Supper Cologne Sculpture

This piece was originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journal back in 2015.

Introduction

The question of Christ’s presence or location in the Eucharist is common among theologians and readers of theology. Is Christ really present in the sacrament? If so, how? Such debate has similarly been central to ecumenical dialogue: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorial feast, realpresence, and spiritual presence represent varying answers to the conundrum. Rather than disagreeing about the nature or form of elemental transformation or the spiritual aspects of the Eucharist, ecumenical dialogue should instead focus on affirming the presence of Christ through the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. George Hunsinger offers a masterful attempt in The Eucharist and Ecumenism to find common ground amid these viewpoints while also capturing the thickness of the Sacrament.[i]

Such concrete attempts to locate Christ in the sacrament fall short of the depth of the Church’s liturgical worship however. The ordo, or structure of the church’s ancient liturgy, cannot be divvied up into smaller portions in an attempt to find Jesus or to use some elements while removing others. The ordo has an inherent meaning to it that cannot be separated out or watered down.[ii] Christ is fully present throughout the entirety of the liturgy because the liturgy in its entirety is considered to be the Eucharist. Any meaningful conversation about the location of Jesus in the Eucharist must see the Eucharist as the whole of the service rather than just one prayer or moment of consecration.[iii]

This article will seek to argue that not only is Christ really present in the Eucharist, but he is present in a plurality of forms and ways. Ultimately his presence is made known in the ritual sacrament in its most tangible and mysterious form, but he is also present in the assembly, (through the presiding minister), and by the reading and proclamation of his word.[iv] By understanding his location in such light, we as the Church are then able to articulate his presence more fully and embody his presence in the world he loves and is coming back to redeem.

Synaxis

Our first encounter with the person of Christ is found in the very gathering of the ecclesiafor Sunday worship: the synaxis. As the people of God join together for the corporate praise and worship of Almighty God they become the Church in a very real and tangible sense. Our Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20 NRSV). Scripture also tells us that God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” and that Jesus is the head of the Church.[v] In short, in becoming one, we become the very body of Christ. With Jesus as the head we are his agents, his singular vehicle of mission and ministry in the world.

In leaving the world and entering into praise and worship, the individual joins in with the koinonia (communion/fellowship)of the Trinity and the Church meeting the Risen Lord as the many become one. St. John tells us: “…the Word became flesh and lived [read: tabernacled] among us” (Ps 22:3, Col 1:18). Through the empowering presence of the Spirit we believe that Jesus continues to tabernacle in, with, and among his people. The opening acclamation—“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”[vi]—as well as the opening songs of praise locate the entire assembly within the triune Godhead and the ongoing, unending praise of the cosmos. The opening acclamation and call to worship identifies and realizes the synaxis in a different dimension of time and space: it is real time and space in the presence of Almighty God. As Fr. Schmemann has pointed out in The Eucharist, the use of “Amen” by the people is not simply a space-filler, it is an affirmation of “Yes, this is so, and let it be so.”[vii]

Word

Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, He is the divine logos poured forth from the mouth of God who created all that is and ever shall be. The majestic language of John’s prologue demonstrates the nature of such presence as the logos and within the ordo we encounter Christ through the public reading and proclamation of God’s word. The Word did indeed become flesh, but he is still the logos. The versicle (responsive statements) at the end of the Old Testament and Epistle lessons points to such reality: The reader says, “The Word of the Lord” and the faithful reply, “Thanks be to God.” We are truly giving thanks for the presence of God’s Word in the assembly; the reading of God’s word means that God’s Word is present in and among his people.

Hebrews claims, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). Through Isaiah, YHWH says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). The Liturgy of the Word is thus ministry in action. It is not the preamble to Communion but rather it is one of two pinnacles or climaxes within the liturgy and should be received as the presence of Christ. In fact, it is against the tradition of the Church and liturgical rubrics to celebrate the Eucharist without first reading from Scripture. One cannot proceed to the Altar without first having been fed by the Word—the two cannot be separated.

The same should be said of the sermon. There should be no difference between the reading of God’s word and the kerygmatic proclamation of the word by the preacher. Perhaps the preacher should also conclude her sermon by saying, “The Word of the Lord,” to which the people reply, “Thanks be to God.” The Reformers certainly had this point right when they stated that “the marks of the true church [are] that the Word of God should be preached, and that the sacraments be rightly administered.”[viii] The connection between synaxis and Word is quite clear. Once the gathered faithful have been fed by the proclaimed word, the service naturally turns toward the second pinnacle of the ordo —the Feast of the Word, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Last Supper Stained Glass

Sacrament

If we believe with Fr. Schmemann that the Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of the Church, the Sacrament of sacraments and the very place where the Church becomes that which she already is,[ix] then we ought to have a thorough understanding of Christ’s location therein.[x] It is safest to dwell in the realm of mystery on this point. The move toward embracing mystery is not a philosophical or theological abandonment, but rather the simple admission that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55). Nor is Mystery a weakened, watered down version of transubstantiation nor is it akin to riding on the fence between two extremes. Christ can still be fully and really present in the bread and wine without requiring a solid answer as to “how” such a thing is possible.

The celebrant begins the Eucharistic Prayer with the Anaphora, the Great Thanksgiving when the Sursum Corda is said: “Lift up your hearts.”[xi] The response is beautiful: “We lift them up to the Lord.” Liturgiologists and liturgical theologians have believed that this proclamation locates the assembly within the eternal Throne Room of Almighty God. This is further evidenced by the singing (or saying) of the Sanctus which echoes the words of Revelation 4-5, “Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.”[xii] This is the song that the heavenly host sings before the Throne without ceasing and the Church is caught up into and joins that heavenly chorus. We know from Scripture that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father and therefore in the act of Sursum Corda and Sanctus the assembly also is in his presence.The celebrant then moves into a recounting of YHWH’s mighty acts throughout history, ultimately culminating in the incarnation, life, and crucifixion of Jesus. The prayer brings to mind the Last Supper when Jesus instituted this holy meal. Our Lord said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”This act of anamnesis, of powerfully and actively remembering, is what drags the past into the present and makes known and real the one true sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus is not re-sacrificed weekly but rather his sacrifice is weekly re-presented. The eschatological outlook of the Eucharistic prayer awaits the day when God will be all in all, when Christ will return to make all things new, and when the faithful shall dine at the banquet table with their bridegroom. The future is a necessary component of all Eucharistic celebration because we are a hope-filled people awaiting the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”[xiii] The past and future acts of Christ come crashing into present and therefore make him present as well.

The epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit; e.g. “Send your Spirit upon these gifts…” ), no matter where it is placed, focuses on the transformation of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no reason to believe that our Lord was being esoteric when he said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” We are not forced into elemental transformation where the form remains the same but the accidents do not. Nor are we confined to believing that the only transformation to take place is in the heart of the believer—though that would be easier. Rather, we are left to believe that the Bread is still bread and the Wine is still wine and yet somehow, someway they are the Body and Blood and that Christ is present in them. Christ’s presence in the sacrament has been made known and realized long before the prayer over the elements and people ever take place. The liturgy concludes with the dismissal of the people out into the world as Christ’s body—this is not truly the end of the liturgy but the beginning of a new chapter, the liturgy after the liturgy, through which we are called to be agents and partners with God’s will and mission.

Conclusion – Real Presence, Plural Presence

The question at hand, then, is not “is” Christ present or “how” is he present, but rather, “Are we willing to accept and encounter the plurality of his presence?” Any attempt to locate Jesus concretely or specifically in the Eucharistic elements is beyond the pale of Scripture and the ancient witness of the Church. The strongest claim that one can make is that he is present in the elements but the method or means by which are mysteriously unknown. Real presence would be the via media between the certainty of trans- and consubstantiation and the thin outlook of the memorial feast and spiritual presence. Christ is not only present in the elements, though you shall certainly find him there, but he is also really present throughout the liturgy in various places, ways, forms, and manners.

A separation between Word and Sacrament occurs when we focus our conversation of presence on a moment or action in the Eucharist.[xiv] Christ is not absent from the Liturgy of the Word and to suggest otherwise is to relegate the readings and sermons to the opinion of man. A robust understanding of a dually climactic liturgy, of both Word and Sacrament, will lead to a deeper acknowledgment of Christ’s pluralistic presence in the Eucharistic ordo. Our Lord is present in, among, by, with, and for his creation and we should expect nothing less from the summit of our praise and worship.

Ultimately the Church is sent forth from her walls that she might embody God’s love “for the life of the world.”[xv] As agents of transformation and grace, we are called to share the Good News of God in Christ with neighbors and strangers alike, inviting them into the family of God, and ultimately partaking with them in a foretaste of the eschatological banquet. By understanding his location in such light, we as the Church are then able to articulate his presence more fully and embody his presence in the world he loves and is coming back to redeem.

This piece was originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journal in the Winter 2015 edition. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Micah Lunsford, a fellow Fuller graduate and the Editor of Resonance.

Resonance - Header

[i]George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast, Current Issues in Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[ii]Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 3rd ed., trans. Asheleigh E. Moorhouse (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir, 1986, ©1966), 19.

[iii]Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist–sacrament of the Kingdom (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir, 1988, ©1987), 31.

[iv] I have elected to include the presiding minister parenthetically because such a topic would require far more time and attention than we can give at this moment. Suffice it to say that varying viewpoints on the efficacy or ontology of presbyters is far too large in scope to cover here. That being said, I do believe the priest is an icon of Christ but I do not believe that it is an icon associated with masculine or male-dominated imagery. Cf. Bruce T. Morrill, Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word, and Sacrament (New York: Paulist Press, ©2012).

[v] Psalm 22:3 and Colossians 1:18.

[vi]The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Hymnal Corp., [1979]), 355.

[vii] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 48.

[viii] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion via Alister E. McGrath. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998) 205.

[ix] That is, in Christ the Church already is the Church but she becomes or realizes herself as the Church in the celebration of the Eucharist.

[x] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 29.

[xi] A better translation is the simple imperative, “Up hearts!”

[xii] 1979 BCP, 362.

[xiii] As stated in the Nicene Creed.

[xiv] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 27-28.

[xv] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir, 1973 (1982 Printing)),.

This was originally posted on my Patheos Blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” in April 2016. You can read the original post here.

A friend recently shared that a young woman in his parish explained that she hates the Creed. He subsequently requested that something be written about the importance of teaching the Creed(s) to young people. There are likely to be many, many articles, books, and blog posts on the topic but here’s my attempt at an answer:

As part of the liturgy every Sunday, the assembled Church proclaims the words of the Nicene Creed (or Apostles’ Creed if connected with the Sacrament of Baptism). I have often heard this liturgical practice described as dull, rote, and boring. For many this is but a chance to stretch the legs after the sermon and to shake off the preacher’s (in)effective words before Eucharist. But why is the Creed viewed this way? Weren’t there councils and centuries of heresy and disagreement that ultimately gave birth to these statements of faith? Is the Creed relevant to my faith today? Keep reading…

The Creed (and I am using a generic “Creed” at this point but by it I mean Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Apostles’ or Athanasian) is far more than theological precision or the fruit of a council some 1700 years ago. The Creed is first and foremost part of the living expression and Tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. The Creed recalls our baptismal covenant and Eucharistic joy, it is Scripture exegeted and digested, it is our corporate memory and shared faith, it is active, and it is certainly theologically robust.

In the Early Church, the Bishop gave the Apostles’ Creed to members of the catechumenate. These men and women were meant to learn, mark, study, and inwardly digest the Creed as part of their preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. They were taught and instructed based on the Creed as part of their catechesis. Nothing has changed to this day—at least, nothing needs to have changed.

The catechumens would then be responsible for “handing the Creed back” to the Bishop. That is, these God-fearing men and women would demonstrate their reception of the Creed by proclaiming its words and power to the Bishop. In modern liturgies, the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Liturgy of Baptism because it is the earliest baptismal statement in the Church. To this day we proclaim the Apostles’ Creed because it is the “faith once delivered” to the Church and carried on faithfully throughout generations.When you say the Creed you are not simply reciting ancient words. Side note: I think it would be wise for clergy to cease saying, “Let us recite the words…” No, the Creed is a proclamation of God’s faithfulness and work throughout history; it is an affirmation of the triune God; it is the recognition that Jesus is both fully man and fully God; it is embrace of the person and work of the Holy Spirit; it is a charge to and for the Church. The Creed signals our participation in salvation history because our very act of believing is evidence of the Creed’s efficacy and validity.

The normative creed in the midst of the Eucharist is the Nicene Creed, the words of which were hammered out by two great ecumenical councils in Nicaea and Constantinople. The councils were held as a result of heretical teachings spreading throughout the nascent church. The Nicene Creed is Trinitarian, it is doxological, it is theological, it is rich, and it is robust. One thing that it is not: complete. No creedal statement will ever be a complete capturing or encapsulation of theological reality and thought. The Creed is embedded within the liturgy and it is here that it finds its greatest significance. As part of the liturgy the Creed adds to our worship as it moves from a statement of assent and becomes a statement of praise and thanksgiving.

Is the Creed relevant to your faith? It is perhaps one of the most relevant things you can say! It is a reminder that while your faith is the faith of an individual it is also not your faith. It is a faith that was handed down to you, a faith that you received, and a faith that you are called to pass along. The Creed helps us hone in on what we believe as the one holy catholic and apostolic church and it also helps us get outside of our own heads and holy huddles.

Just to recap: the creeds are therefore used in intimate connection with two sacraments of the Church: baptism and Eucharist. The creeds allow us to participate liturgically and sacramentally in the witness, Tradition, and ministry of the Church. We join our voices with myriads of saints who have gone before—and many who will come after—in the praise and worship of Almighty God. Our faith is formed as Trinitarian, doxological, theological, baptismal, and Eucharistic.

I don’t know about you, but based on the all the above I have an extreme need for Creed…don’t you?

This post was first published on June 28, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For starters, Alan Jacobs of Wheaton wrote a delightful piece on Harry Potter in 2000 and the piece was recently re-published by First Things. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a diehard-Potter fan. I discovered the books early into the series, I believe it was in between the publishing of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. Since my adolescence, I have read the books with vigor, attended 4 midnight book releases, watched the movies with a mixture of joy and zealous criticism, listened to the books while I paint, and most recently I attended Harry Potter in Concert with the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center. I feel a bit like Paul at this point in giving my credentials—only slightly joking—but I do this to suggest that I am not some squib jumping on the HP bandwagon.

I was listening to the original NPR announcement of Harry Potter this morning—it can be found here—and something grabbed my attention. Margot Adler predicted that the word “muggle” would become a big thing in common language and then shared an audio clip from Rowling discussing it further. Within the HP series the term “muggle” simply means “non-magical person.” However, Rowling shared that she began receiving letters and emails from fans who began expanding the term for modern, non-literary usage. In this form the term came to mean something like “dull and unimaginative person.” And I cannot tell you why, but it was like a lightning bolt scared my brain (see what I did there) and it got me thinking:

What if there are liturgical muggles? What if the loss of the sacramental imagination is like the difference between magic and muggle (or at least squib)? I suppose the easiest place to begin is first with the sacramental imagination and its loss.

…Before I go on, please hear: I am not suggesting that the liturgy is an actual form of magic or that words spoken over bread and wine is a spell or an enchantment like Stupefyor Avada Kedavra. I am not looking to debate hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum) or medieval superstitions. If you find yourself arguing with me on these points then you’ve missed my meaning entirely. The reader may continue…

We are heirs of the Enlightenment. Our collective sacramental imagination has shifted over the course of 2,000 years. The ways in which we interpret information, tell stories, share experiences, and view the world today as Christians in the democratic, capitalist West is different from the earliest centuries of the church in the East and in Rome, it is different from the medieval church, it is different from the overwhelming majority of church history. Why does this matter?

Because we no longer actively view the world as being full of God’s glory, imbued with his presence, overwhelmed by his love, rich with encounters of him, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lyric, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God” makes no sense to us. Our imaginations, our sense of awe and wonder, our belief in the movement and action of the Holy Spirit is greatly diminished. There is a reason that Harry Potter, Lewis’ Narnia, the Force in Star Wars, and many similar stories capture our imaginations. It’s because it is so other than what we know and what we are used to. It’s not that these stories view magic positively but that they show a world teeming with possibilities, of a world where the supernatural is bumping against the natural regularly, where things aren’t always as they seem.And that brings me to the liturgy…

Our post-Enlightenment, Protestant worship has seen a minimalist approach to liturgy and a dwindling view of enchantment, wonder, awe, and terror before God. These have been replaced with rationalism, with Bible, with Sermon. In many Protestant, evangelical churches the sermon is the centerpiece. Rather than a dually climactic service where Word and Table play off of and interpret each other, these worship services are almost exclusively comprised of worship songs and a long, highly intellectual (though not always) sermon. The mind is what matters here, and how it affects the hands and the feet afterward, but the body is left relatively alone.

Enter the liturgical muggle.  Remember that I am using muggle as a “dull and unimaginative person.”

This is the subtle shift from sacramental worship to rational worship, from Word and Sacrament to more and more Word. I think, and I may be mistaken, that it is obvious how this shift would result in making liturgical muggles. But those in more historical, liturgical conditions aren’t entirely off the hook. This isn’t an us vs. them situation. It is entirely possible to be(come) a liturgical muggle within the liturgy because, for me, liturgical muggles are those who have lost the sacramental imagination.

Even amid liturgical worship, we have lost a sacramental consciousness, awareness, and imagination as the sacraments have less and less to do with reality and more to do with vague and ethereal signs and symbols. Baptism becomes more about the confession of faith (or covenant promise) than the reality of and individual being washed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of being made a new person, of being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Or Eucharist is about nourishment for the spiritual journey, or a political act of the highest degree (don’t get me started), or a sign of socio-economic equality in the Kingdom of God and not about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood, joining the worship of the cosmos in the heavenly throne room. I could go on and on and on here, but suffice it today that for liturgical muggles water, oil, bread, and wine are always just that. There is no imagination, there is no magic (be careful here) per se. Worship is dull and unimaginative because it is focused exclusively on what our minds can handle and conceive rather than that God is doing in and among us, breaking into our midst regularly, sacramentally.

In my opinion, and I say this with all sincerity and humility, we need to guard against making more liturgical muggles and losing even more of the sacramental imagination. Our Christian worldview needs to shift, and shift pretty dramatically. A deeper, richer, more robust view of the Sacraments will help us avoid becoming liturgical muggles. At the end of the day, rationalist worship or rationalist Christianity is a separation of mind from body, of head and heart, of brain and soul. It may not appear that way, it certainly wasn’t intended that way, but it is it’s own form of escapism, of isolationism, of segregation. The reintegration of these elements, the reintroduction of Sacramental teaching and imagination will result in a holistic, fully-formed, fully informed, fully alive worship and a Christian spirituality that is committed to working within the world we inhabit rather than railing against it constantly.