Holy Asides
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October 3, 2016, 5:18 PM

Worship and Liturgy as Formation

As I wrote in the last E-pistle, this past summer I attended workshops on Christian formation in the 21st century. I also referenced some of the ways in which liturgy and worship can be missional, like the Corpus Christi and Blessing of Pets celebrations. But, worship and liturgy, especially within our tradition, are excellent ways for Christian formation and education to take place within our own walls, even within our own pews. There is a rhythm to the liturgy throughout the year. We are given a broad view of theology and scripture, and every bodily sense is utilized when we worship together.

The reality that worship encompasses all five of our bodily senses should not be underrated.  This is how we come before God, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, and giving God our whole selves in worship. We see the images around us: the stained glass, the cross, the altar—those symbols that are vital to who we are. We hear the choir singing, the sermon being preached, and the prayers being offered. We taste the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine as we come forward for communion. And coffee hour should not be discounted as we gather in fellowship with one another. We feel the touch of one another in the “passing of the peace” or when we receive the laying on of hands from those praying for us. Sometimes we smell incense, other times the candles or maybe the flowers, or even just the fresh morning air as we get out of our cars. Worship permeates every aspect of who we are, and when we join together as one, the impact of this multiplies.

In liturgy, we are also formed through our theological learning. Reading and hearing God’s Holy Word through the scripture lessons and sermons, despite the amount and breadth of scripture read each week, are actually only a minor way in which we are formed. Rather, it is largely through the repetition of hymns, songs, creeds, and prayers that learning takes place. In the Lord's Prayer, we pray that God brings forth the kingdom of heaven to us here on earth. During Eucharist, we proclaim Jesus as “the perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” And in the Nicene Creed, we profess the divinity and humanity of Jesus. We also sing that “the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord,” not bake sales, or stewardship campaigns, Bible studies, or even worship services. Jesus is the foundation of all that we do. This is formational learning of who God is and who we are as God’s people.

Through worship, we also come to be formed in the remembrance and celebration of the seasons of the Church and Holy Days. We move from Advent to Christmas, as we both await the return of the King and simultaneously rejoice in his first coming at the Nativity in Bethlehem. We walk with the Magi in Epiphany, gazing at the glorious ways in which God has been made manifest to us. We travel through the wilderness of the forty days of Lent. And during Holy Week, we eat the Last Supper, wash the feet of one another, hear the pounding of the nails into the cross, and experience the darkness of the tomb. On Easter Day we rejoice in the new life that takes place in Jesus. We celebrate, that “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” for fifty days, until the Holy Spirit is sent forth from God to empower and transform the people of God and the Church. The long season following Pentecost is to focus on growth and formation in the lives of God’s people.

Throughout the year there are also a variety of Holy Days. Some are well-known and observed, like Ash Wednesday. Others are major feasts, though not as prominent in society, such as St. Michael and all Angels. These Holy Days and Seasons, which occur year in and year out, deepen our formation in Christ and draw us into a holy rhythm of God’s saving grace.

While there are a variety of other aspects that form us as a parish and as disciples of Jesus, our worship and liturgy may not only be important ways in which we are formed, they just might be the key ways in which our theological and scriptural understandings take place.

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