Sunday, April 27, 2008

Imaging and Enacting Heaven on Earth

I wrote this for the church I used to attend.

A single Sunday morning worship service, preferably no later than 10:00, probably would help encourage inquiring newcomers to return and also benefit those of us who like to attend adult bible study.

However, my primary concern is that we at Old Condo Shadows and in all churches offer public worship that reflects and embodies God's incarnation and Self-giving in Jesus Christ, which clearly happens whenever we celebrate a baptism or the Lord's Supper, but it also becomes possible with a carefully constructed order of worship sourced from scripture and history—including our own history here on this mesa.

As Christians, God's people in Jesus Christ, each Sunday is a day of resurrection, a time especially to remember who we are, Whose we are and Who has called us by retelling and re-enacting the meta-narratives of redemption, of deliverance from death to life in the Exodus and Passion/Easter stories within the context of public Lord's day worship; in these stories we find healing memory and discover hope for a free future. As we invite our neighbors and other people who don't have much church experience, we're hoping to meet and to reach them where they are and speak in a language they'll understand, which can be a precarious endeavor. 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? Are we presenting inquiring newcomers with a choice, a real alternative to costly and deathly consumerism and related excesses? Are we telling and showing the world something very different from anything they've previously experienced? Do we dare imagine we can domesticate the wildness of Jesus? For sure it is about the ways our lives demonstrate faithfulness and obedience to the God Who covenants with us in Jesus, but it is equally about how together we worship the Crucified and Risen One, and it may require some explanation and interpretation, not only for so-called outsiders but also reminders for the insiders among us. It is strange; in many ways it is wholly "other than", this reality of a people (us!) who already have experienced their first death and their second birth, this reality of seemingly regular, ordinary, everyday people who follow a crucified outcast, trusting the God Whose ultimate word is resurrection from the dead.

Although I didn't grow up even on the periphery of the Church, the texts, colors, music and symbols of the liturgical year gradually came to shape my entire understanding of God's gracious encounter with all creation and God's redeeming work in Jesus Christ, so by the time I started preaching and teaching on a seriously regular basis, I naturally drew upon those understandings. Of course, as a life-long artist I'm very visual about everything!

And again, the church's historical liturgy is deeply rooted, not only in the practice of the early church (when to be ecclesia still was far more political and cultural than it was religious or theological), but also in the worship of God's people we first knew as Israelites and later as Jews. One of the many strengths of retaining some aspects of historical forms is the way those words and actions connect us vertically with the people of God in every place and time and also horizontally connect us here at OCS to the contemporary Church and churches around the world. Of course, the way of Jesus is comprehensive, but retaining historical liturgical practices helps move us out from our own concerns as individuals to the demands of the gospel for political and social justice and advocacy, something I don't see or feel happening nearly enough (anywhere, actually). By the way, our liturgy classes in seminary were team-taught, not only because I attended an ecumenical seminary but also because we can learn so much from other styles and traditions.

A few words about the assurance of pardon: needless to say we all sin far too frequently, but the rite of confession, pardon, absolution isn't nearly as much about announcing the fact our lives again have fallen far short of God's demands along with our need for grace and forgiveness as it is an opportunity to reflect upon God's claims on our lives in this community and in the world. Possibly it better could be expressed as a proclamation or assurance of our reconciliation to God, one another and all creation in Jesus Christ.

I'm asking questions rather than offering answers, and I'll conclude by asking if our presence in our neighbors' lives and in the world beyond this corner of Paradise can be partly in our own world, partly in our neighbors', and wholly in the sovereignty of heaven? Can our Sunday worship reflect such a way of life? There are no easy, instant answers, and we'll need to anticipate a lot more changes as the months unfold.

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