Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Wine in New Wineskins

I've been thinking about Liturgy. It is the work of the people, God's people, in a particular place and a particular time. Liturgy connects us with each other and with the church throughout the ages. The work of liturgy has a particular shape, one that has been worked out for two millenia. This shape is what we call the "ordo" of Christian worship.

In the gospel of Matthew 9:14-17 the disciples of John have an argument with Jesus. How come his disciples did not fast like the pharisees did? Jesus answer is that although fasting is important the time was not appropriate for it. In other words context does matter not merely a practice.

I've been thinking about the Liturgy in my context and in the context of other churches. I am reminded that for close to a thousand years different regions of the Christian church had different liturgies and different lectionaries. It was only when Rome was trying to centralize their authority that the movement began for both universal texts and universal practice. It is true that the written liturgies followed a similar pattern - the ordo was the same. But the way that is was lived out was different in each community, different in ways that reflected their context (mozarabic in Spain, Gallican in what would become France, etc.).

In United Methodism we have the opportunity to have common prayer that reflects both our catholicity and our locality. Our rubrics are flexible and our ritual text rich theologically and poetically. Yet we still seem to be stuck in three camps: those who ignore the ritual of our church all together, those who use the ritual stiffly and coldly, and those who use what they can find when convenient.

The ones that do not use the ritual claim that using it is archaic and will not attract or form people in the way of Jesus. Many want to have freedom to worship in ways that are not bound to the ways of the past. "New wine in new wineskins" they say.

Those that use the ritual coldly claim that it is the doing of it that matters and that people need to stop worrying about themselves and focus on God. If they did that then they will realize what a big favor the ritual is doing to them.

Then there are the ones who want to be "liturgical" and "creative." They seem to pick and use whatever seems most convenient, exciting, different. Sometimes there is little connection between one aspect of worship and another. At other times there is so much newness that one becomes confused and distracted.

I want us to have a fourth way. A way that takes seriously the needs of our community. I want us to worship in ways that are formative and that reflect both our catholicity and our locality. Ways that represent the best of the past and the best of today. Ways of preaching, praying, singing, and silence that connect with current generations. Ways of worship that are both doxological and evangelistic.

I want new wines in new wineskins but I still want wine and I still want to hold that wine in wineskins. Am I making any sense?

Peace, Juan+

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