By Daphne Sidney, Superintendent Australasia
Liturgy at first glance may seem a rather antiquated idea, but in examining it further, I have found that it can have deep relevance to our Christian walk today.
The world we live in today is full of despair for many. There is a general lack of trust and life has little meaning for many people. One author described this as people lacking a sense of belonging or being able to participate in something meaningful. He compared this to the participation we can have with the divine story as written by Jesus Christ himself, through liturgy within the community of a church.1
As a body of believers coming together, Christ-centered worship—worship based on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of the church—is something from which we gain great encouragement and stability. Christ in that way is the center of our worship and our Rock upon whom we can rest secure through the storms of life.
Following a liturgy based on Christ enables us to participate in and internalize a very important story—God’s great story, which began before time and continues through eternity. This is revealed through the Son, and the work of Jesus Christ as he came down to meet us in our humanity and invite us into the great love and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We build on this story by honoring Christ and participating in the Christ-centered traditions honed over many years, which provide stability, encouragement and hope. They also provide a form and a rhythm we can depend upon as we rehearse the familiar. We never tire of hearing about the great events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica during their time of hardship:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed onto you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 KJV)
Our hearts are strengthened as we rehearse the seasons, and each time we learn something new. I was raised in Tasmania, known as the apple isle of Australia. Our family had a large apple orchard and the seasons were marked—seasons for pruning, for spraying, fertilizing, irrigating and finally picking the matured fruit. Beautiful fresh and crisp apples!
I remember how diligent my father was to follow the work of the seasons. He was deeply vested in the healthy growth of every variety of apple in the orchard. Healthy trees would bear healthy fruit and would be able to endure the long journey as they were exported around the world.
Likewise our heavenly Father is deeply vested in each one of his children and in his church, collectively, that we may be healthy and bear good fruit, coming to a maturity and ready to be sent.
The English word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which means the work or service of the people within the church community. Yet it is not simply the people’s work, but it serves to bring focus to the work of Christ, done on our behalf as the ‘supreme leitourgos’2
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a High Priest; who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven and who ministers (leitourgos) in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. (Hebrews 8:1-2 KJV)
We can only respond with thanks and worship for what Christ has accomplished, and very grateful that he continually ministers and intercedes for us today.
One of our most sacred traditions over the years has been participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion) as a commemoration of the love and life of Jesus. He invites us to use the symbols of bread and wine to remember him. We sometimes focus on his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Other times we focus on the promise of eternal life, or the hope we have in him. There are also times we participate in communion as a time of rejoicing as we remember we are one because of Jesus. Jesus didn’t want the disciples to focus on the manner of his death or how much he suffered, rather on how much he loved them and what his death would mean in making them “one” even as the Father and the Son were one. He wanted them to understand what he was willing to do in order to show them his love.
As members of his body, we are given the honor and grace to enter the communion shared by Father, Son and Spirit and to participate in their mutual love for each other. Every time we participate, we do so gratefully and always mindful of who Jesus is, what he has done, is doing and will do. As Paul reminded us, we give thanks as we partake of the bread and the wine—symbols of Jesus sharing his life and love with us. He called himself the bread of life, and the “cup of thanksgiving,” as Paul calls it, is symbolic of Jesus’ shed blood—given so that we might have life in him.
As a body of believers, we are drawn ever closer into communion as we honor the work of Christ, being reminded of who we are:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NRSV)
Through Jesus, we receive forgiveness, which brings hope and renewal, something we need continually. Erickson explains that the sacrament is not being generated by the participant, but rather, it is brought to the sacrament of Christ himself. By taking the elements the participant receives anew and continually the vitality of Christ…3
Taking communion through the seasons of the liturgy helps keep us focused on Christ. Adding the study of the Word, particularly reading the four Gospels, and resources such as the Christian calendar can help deepen our understanding of the seasons of the life of Christ that we celebrate. We can enter the seasons with preparation and rejoice whole-heartedly in them, in communion with Christ and with one another. Jesus is our all in all, and each season of his life brings a new excitement and a yearning to become more like him.
- Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells – The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2008
- Ted Johnston, The Surprising God Blog GCS 2018, http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2018/09/inhabiting-christian-worship-year.html
- Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985.