Monday, December 03, 2007

Liturgy Proclamation Sacraments - post 333

Almost randomly, today I'm blogging preliminary notes for next Sunday's 3rd class in my God Among Us series. So far we've discussed the Divine Presence in creation, in the prophets and in the Bethlehem manger; next Sunday we'll explore God's grace-filled Presence in liturgy, word and sacraments, and most likely I'll give the class a separate file with some details about scriptural roots and historical eucharistic practice.

Liturgy—Holy Time: remembering Whose we are! Who has called us! We recall, retell and re-enact our corporate and individual histories of the journey from death into life.

Sacraments—Holy Place and Holy Stuff—sacred creation: re-membering who we are! what God has called and enabled us to be and to do.

Water, the primordial substance of the world, existed before anything else in creation; in Genesis we read:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Water is the womb of creation. In baptism, we enter the state of this world yet unborn and submerge ourselves in the substance from which primal life emerged, completely engulfed by God's creative power of death and resurrection, identifying with this planet's history and with Jesus Christ.

In Saxon English, the Lord provided the "loaf" (of bread) essential for sustenance; we live born/baptized into the biography of the baby born in Bethlehem (House of Bread) baby; we recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord. The Heidelberg Catechism says in the Lord's Supper we become "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh!" In faith and baptism Jesus' biography becomes our biography: suffered under Pontius Pilate—the conventional, death-dealing, life-killing political, social and economic and cultural establishment(s), crucified, dead, buried...on the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended to sovereignty...

We are the body, corpus, of Christ! Each of us is a member of the body of Christ. Jesus Christ incarnate, in the flesh again, re-enfleshed in us. Corporate Identity [package]: our logo, our résumé, our curriculum vitae, where we've been, what we've learned, what we live for and die for...who are we? In Christ, we have experienced our second birth and our first death. We live under the reign of life rather than in the enslavement, the subjugation of death.

We've talked about Abraham, Jesus and us being from the other side of the prevailing culture. Now let's consider all of us living on the other side of the culture of death, alive in the sovereignty of life! Baptism: primal experience, water, womb.

Eucharist: our meta-narrative, primal narrative as a community. Both cosmic events in each of our lives are part of our transformation from individual to person. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event, and" we can claim the same about the Eucharist. We know Jesus Christ as sovereign, prophet and priest; baptized, we participate in that royal, prophetic priesthood. Especially related to those roles, how can our lives signify, witness to, represent and illuminate the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ? To partly quote and partially paraphrase from another blog:
Theologically, psychologically, anthropologically, and economically a lone individual becomes a person, a social entity, by becoming embedded in a textured, connected, interwoven history of shared experiences and different points of view. There is no other way to create a humanly connected sense of your own identity, form memories and become part of history. You (I need, one needs) need a stable community and probably a plot of land to give you a stable sense of self if you are going to be healthy! Without those fluid living processes in a real sense a individual or a people has no history, but lives in a neither here not there "nowhere" of a fragmented series of stories starting to form, but without a persistent core that includes people who have journeyed alongside us through time, so it's possible to "remember when" together, to evoke and rekindle tarnished dreams and splintered hopes. No matter how many other people come and go in each of our lives, each of us needs persons (and maybe places, too) of shared history, to accurately name ourselves and recognize others.
Especially in an increasingly anomic and anonymous world (this is southern California, but it's happening everywhere),we need awareness of our history with the people of God and God of the people in every time and space, and this is where scripture, sacraments and liturgy become saving realities, "means of grace" as we refer to preaching and sacraments (and, of course, the cross) in this tradition. Congregations, people, and groups can read out of the texts of scripture and the persons of the prophets, the apostles and Jesus the Christ into their own experiences; they can write, re-write and image a shared past into a full present and meaningful future, right along with awareness of themselves as community. Other people and events may enter, stay a while, leave for a while and possibly return, but being grounded and rooted in historical existence lived, narrated, written down and liturgically re-enacted keeps on and continues transforming lives.

lifelines and heartbeatsold journal notes:
The colors, texts, textures and music marking the events in the liturgical calendar were more real to me than any of my own individual history ever had been and had shaped my life into deep, indelible patterns and designs. The rhythms, pace and pulse of local church ministry with its alternating consistency and surprising interventions shaped my days and literally outlined my identity.

More paraphrases from one of my blogs:

The synagogue's and later the church's liturgy developed and became shaped in a way that addresses, interacts with and speaks to the human condition and Divine response to human need. One way Israel kept remembering the past so it would remain present was with rituals, celebrations and liturgies in which they remembered, talked about and reenacted past events as if they still were in the present, and within a context that was play more than it was anything else. Israel told and retold the story of the people’s experience with the God of the covenants, and like God’s primal people Israel, in our worship we remember who God is, who we are, how God has acted. In the power of the Holy Spirit we affirm our dreams and announce our hopes for the future. Like play of all kinds, worship also creates a new and different self-contained world existing with and within our everyday world. In worship, but especially when we celebrate the sacraments, we anticipate, celebrate and commemorate and we carry with us beyond this building this microcosm of a redeemed world that has been created by us and God, between us and God, as we become a living and a life-giving memory of Jesus so in us, Jesus again becomes alive in the world and we become sacraments mediating between God in Christ and the world, offering the world a living connection to the heaven of God’s Reign here on earth.

liturgy, time; sacraments, space

Time and space are the conditions in which all creation lives. Living within the cycle of the liturgical year as it replicates the history of God and the people of God and celebrating the sacraments within that context helps refocus and change the meaning of time and space as the necessary context God's revelation to us as human creations.

Liturgy: holy time—remembering Whose we are

Sacraments: holy space—re-membering who we are

Time in space: we spend nine months immersed in the watery womb from conception to birth, immersed in the rhythms of heartbeat and lungs. During gestation we are immersed in time, rather than imagining time as external to our world. Outside the maternal womb, in our daily lives and in the church, for a lifetime we rework and re-collect the sounds and rhythms of our primal becoming. Through liturgy, the church recovers the sacredness of all time, not just the perfunctorily, formally schedules times of Sunday worship. Liturgy brings both cosmic time and chronological time to an intersection where all times everywhere, past, present and future, meet in this present now, filling it with hope for a free and full future. The sacraments are actions of the entire Church in every time and every place, and connect us with the whole people of God in every time and space.

Space in time: Just as the gestational womb provided an immersion in time and space prior to our physical birth, the dwelling-spaces, schools and neighborhoods of our earliest years immersed us in space in a foundational way that formed us and continues transforming us today. In our search for home, for safety and for belonging, recognition and acknowledgment, in its proclamation and with the sacraments the church recovers historical events for us and helps us make all time and space sacred. As people of the Bible, we know anywhere God meets, encounters creation is sacred space, but in the sovereignty of the crucified and risen Christ the formal sacraments expand to include all creation. Baptized into the Christ Event of God’s supreme self-revelation in measurable, definable space and time, we become prophet, priests and sovereigns, in stewardship of creation and of life. In the Eucharist, the church in every place and every time blesses and reintegrates all creation in every place and time; we recognize as sacred everything we see and touch and smell and hear and taste. (That was redundant, but for Sunday I'll choose which way to express it, or maybe invent a third way.)

As Christians, God's people in Jesus Christ, we find sacred memory and discover hope for a free future in the meta-narratives of redemption, of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories.

I love Exodus 5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.'" From the time Israel and Yahweh rendezvoused into covenantal relationship in the desert of the Exodus, the liturgies of God's people have recounted the story of God's faithfulness in their lives and recollected ways in which God shaped and formed the identity of the people of God along with God's call to the people to be His Presence in the world and God's enabling and fulfilling that call in the power of the HS. Worship forms a microcosm of our daily, lively encounter with a Holy God, Who calls us to be Holy as He is! Martin Luther's story is so well-known, but no way did he minimize the awesomeness and the demands for justice of the God of Jesus Christ. It was exactly that awareness that initially led Brother Martin to extreme measures in attempts to please and placate God. Predictable I sort of needed to include Luther note! Moving on, now.

The sacraments and the order of worship create a microcosm of redeemed, restored creation, bringing to life a hint of the eschaton, the new creation. (I won't say "eschaton" on Sunday without explaining it, trust me!)

In April 2006 I blogged about Emerging Church, emerging churches
The church gathers as the community that already has experienced its first death and second birth, the community that thrives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in the reign of life. The barely formed churches we hear about in the epistles (I'm thinking of Corinth as especially instructive) were way different from the over-formed institutional Church Luther wrote and spoke against; in this 21st Century, the church almost has become something else altogether.

Some congregations deliberately quest to become like those other churches across the street, down the boulevard, or in geographically near, but more visibly and ostentatiously affluent areas. Although I hesitate to write "evangelical," that was the Reformer's word for Protestantism in general and evangelical remains the word for "Protestant" in non-English speaking countries. Nonetheless, my readers know what I'm trying to say!

Prayer and hymn singing in the vernacular is one of Luther's marks of the true church; the Reformers also insisted where the gospel was rightly proclaimed (Calvin added "heard) and the sacraments administered, there the church was—everything else was adiaphora. "Evangelism in the vernacular" also needs to happen for the Church, as the Body of the Risen Christ, to be true to its call, as Jesus always met people more than half-way—Jesus met people as who they were and where they were. The churches I've been visiting and the protestant mainline I identify with all have been trying to meet people where they are and speak in a language they'll understand. But did God ever call the People of God to live in ways congruent with their local cultures? Or in a radically culturally incongruent, actually counter-cultural manner? How about prophetic liturgy and prophetic living?

Evangelism in the vernacular? Telling the Good News in the people's muttersprach, in their lingua franca, which, of course, means far more than the syntax, colloquialisms and grammar of their spoken and written language. Our evangelical language needs to reach all of their cultural sensibilities as well as their actual native idiom of every aspect of their everyday lives, reaching far into their values, hopes and dreams. What do they desire for themselves, their children, their community, and even for worlds beyond their immediate ones? What would they perceive as Good News; above all, what can we demonstrate to them that would make them willing to risk change?

On Lent 5, toward the end of my Lenten series on theology of the cross, again I blogged on this site geographically, socially, culturally, chronologically, theologically and/or spiritually liminal modes of Christian presence and asked, "can our presence in the world and in our neighborhoods be a liminal, in the process of becoming, though not-quite-yet one? Partly in our own world and way, partly in theirs, and wholly in the sovereignty of heaven?"

Note that I [originally] concluded with text in fiery Pentecostal red! Now to further consider these ideas and write them down in coherent form for next Sunday's class meeting.

© leah chang 2007


  1. love this! Will spend more time with it later, but it is captivating.

  2. "Liturgy: holy time - remembering Whose we are

    Sacraments: holy space - re-membering who we are"

    Love those statements.

  3. Thanks! one of my favorite topics, but now to whittle down the notes for my handout to a mere 2 pages!


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