Sunday, August 5, 2012

More Plural, Please

We all know that Christian worship is a group activity. Even on a desert island, a Christian does not praise and pray to God in solitude. Always there is a spiritual connection, not only with other Christians somewhere on the mainland, but with the church through the ages, saints and sinners who have gone before us.

As much as this is obvious, it is still easy to forget. .

Look at the Prayer of Confession for example. We all approach that part of the liturgy with some fear and trembling—if we don’t, then we’re not taking it seriously. We bring baggage full of personal stuff that we hope will be sorted out in the process of the prayer, and the junk discarded by the Assurance of Pardon..

But it’s never just “my” prayer. It’s not “all about me”. The Prayer of Confession is all about us, all of us, humans that we are, tripping and stumbling through life with bumps and bruises to show for our sinfulness. God knows all about us before we even find the words or read the ones in the bulletin to ask for help—and God is at the ready to do what needs to be done for us with grace and tenderness.

There is always solidarity in this kind of confession, as long as we remember that the folks around us are in the same boat as we are, leaky as it surely is. The company of other sinners similar to ourselves bolsters our courage for candor.

So the Prayer of Confession has this universal human quality to it. But even more than that, the prayer would not even exist in the order of worship if we all did not know already that God is waiting for us to lift it up. There is a common expectation that Confession is good for the soul, and God’s Grace is available for the asking. We wouldn’t be brazen enough to admit our weakness and failures if it didn’t fit our understanding of who God is.

Another example would be the Prayers of the People. No matter how these are done, a lot of individual and personal requests pop out, as well they should. Sometimes names and situations are verbalized out loud, other times silently—nevertheless, “my” specific concerns are offered by me, as everyone else does.

Unique and singular as the prayers may be, however, we offer them in the midst of the rest of the congregation—my prayers become our prayers, everyone else’s prayers become mine. Prayer is a mutual enterprise, the act of the church more than it is only the act of individual Christians. Therein lies the church’s strength, for the Spirit moves among us and binds us in a community of care and concern.

Nowhere is this truer than in the making of commitments to follow Christ. In reaffirming our baptisms or coming to the Table, we are reminded that we are to be part of the Body of Christ. Baptism marks us as members of that Body, Eucharist nourishes us in that Body—both lead us to discipleship.

Certainly and surely, these involve deeply personal commitments, life-changing decisions to be made and renewed constantly. Yet they are never entirely solo acts. Always they are made in the context of the whole people of God. Motivation to follow Christ faithfully is always enhanced and strengthened by the support of those around us who are daring to go on the same journey.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in a few churches where it seems that some of the pew sitters are there only to do their private devotions. To be undisturbed by others in the room, they find a safe corner, and scoot out just before the last liturgical word.

I’ve also participated in a service or two where the hymns are all first person singular—the “Me and God” songs—as though each worshipper had a single line to the Divine to transact their singular spiritual business.

The Greeting of Peace is one of the best antidotes to stark individualism. Passing from one to the other the gracious healing spirit of Christ, overcomes animosity and bridges gaps to unify the people as the Church, the Body of Christ.

So, remember in planning worship that liturgy and hymnody need more plural, please.

What hymns do you sing in church that are for the whole church? Which ones are first person singular? How about unison prayers: singular or plural?

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