Sunday, March 4, 2012

Liturgical Centering

The church where I was guest preacher a while back included in the order of service time for “centering”. A thirty-second-or-so period of silence, just after the announcements at the beginning, were offered as a chance for us to “center”, remind ourselves why we were there, and focus on the task at hand. It allowed us to leave behind the troubles of the day and forget about the worries of tomorrow, while we concentrated on worship in the “now”.

Worthy as this silent ritual might be, it didn’t go far enough. There's another kind of centering, which, for the want of a better term, I’ll call “liturgical centering”, of which we need to be more aware.

To illustrate what I mean, I refer you to a couple of the biblical texts cited in the Call to Worship—Opening Sentences of the Service for the Lord’s Day (Book of Common Worship (1993)).

The first is Ps. 116:12, 13:

"What shall we return to the Lord
for all the good things God has done for us?
We will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.

Rather than trying to forget what is in the past, here we are called to recall God‘s activity in our personal lives, and in history, as a cause for our celebration in worship of God.

Then there is the other text, Ps. 100:1, 2, 5:

"Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come into God's presence with singing!
For the Lord is a gracious God,
whose mercy is everlasting;
and whose faithfulness endures to all generations.

Here we are urged to anticipate God’s future love and goodness through all the generations to come.

Liturgical Centering, then, calls for us to recognize our place as children of God in the center of God’s activity. The “now” in which we worship is not adrift, but firmly anchored to the past and future which we perceive in faith. God’s mighty acts, as seen in the witness of Scripture and in our own experience, bring us to thank God in this moment. God’s powerful promises rehearsed in this moment, lead us to commit ourselves to worshipping God in our actions from now on.

Most critically, this Liturgical Centering is expressed in the Eucharist, in the Thanksgiving:

"Remembering your gracious acts in Jesus Christ,
we take from your creation this bread and this wine
and joyfully celebrate his dying and rising,
as we await the day of his coming.
"Keep us faithful in your service
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we shall feast with all your saints
in the joy of your eternal realm."

Again, this prayer and other aspects of the liturgy help us find our center in the time-line of God’s history, what has been termed by some as Salvation History, by looking ahead.

Christian worship contains both Remembering (anamnesis) and Anticipation (prolepsis), both recalling what God has done, and looking for what God will do. Our worship in both Word and Sacraments is where we find our “center” between the past and future of Salvation History.

While worshipping in the “now”, we find ourselves between the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, God’s Creation and its Fulfillment. The dynamic of the liturgy includes both Remembrance and Hope as we recall the Life, Ministry, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and long for his Coming Again (parousia).

Remembering and Anticipation create a positive tension in our worship. And trouble ambles on the scene whenever one or the other is neglected.

Worship that resides solely in remembering quickly becomes a museum piece. What is recalled is ancient history, or once-upon-a-time fantasy that is hardly a cause for celebration once a week. It points us backward, to a “golden age” perhaps, but one that lacks relevance to the now in which we live.

On the other hand, worship that is only future-oriented gets fixated on “pie in the sky bye and bye”. It tends to project its fantasy forward, defining for God what we expect and want for our future. This approach to worship also has trouble keeping itself linked to reality.

When, however, both Remembering and Anticipation are present in worship, a balance is struck, and a center is found. Recalling God’s mighty acts and remembering God’s promises, give us clues about what to look for tomorrow. Living in hope that is rooted in the reality of the Gospel keeps us connected to the people of God in all ages past. Between the two we find our center.

In that center, time changes. The chronological time of Salvation History shifts to God’s time (kairos), the time that gives meaning to the days and years of our lives, to all of human history. It is here, therefore, that we encounter God—the One we come to thank for all that God’s done on our behalf, the One who is eternally faithful to us, the God of the past and the future…and the present.

Where do you find both remembering and anticipation in your worship? Are both ever discussed together in sermons? Do you hear about one more than the other?

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