Editor's note:

I don’t think I ever heard the word litur­gy” in the Bap­tist church of my youth, but of course we had one, as infor­mal and unstat­ed as it was. Litur­gy” means, sim­ply, the work of the peo­ple” — it includes both the form and the sub­stance of the things we do when­ev­er we gath­er togeth­er to meet with God and tell his story.

In recent years, I’ve dis­cov­ered some of the trea­sures to be found in more for­mal and his­tor­i­cal litur­gies — the beau­ti­ful lan­guage, the accrued mean­ing of repeat­ed rit­u­al, the impor­tance of allow­ing the believ­ers who have gone before us to have a say in our wor­ship now. Like any adult con­vert to a new way of wor­ship, I’ve been rather enthu­si­as­tic about my new (in this case, ancient) dis­cov­er­ies, and per­haps a bit dis­mis­sive of the old (more mod­ern) forms of wor­ship that so defined my past. 

I need this short, punchy piece from Com­mon Prayer: A Litur­gy for Ordi­nary Rad­i­cals, to remind me that the work of the peo­ple” is a big enough project to require both the for­mal and the spon­ta­neous. Whether we meet in cathe­drals or gym­na­si­ums (or any­thing in between), the impor­tant ques­tion is whether our wor­ship moves us clos­er to God and to our suf­fer­ing neighbor.”

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Excerpt from Common Prayer Pocket Edition

We must be care­ful in all our talk about litur­gi­cal prayer not to rule out the spon­ta­neous moves of the Spir­it. Just as litur­gi­cal tra­di­tions have much to offer us by way of roots, the charis­mat­ic and Pen­te­costals have much to offer us in zeal and pas­sion. Tra­di­tion and inno­va­tion go togeth­er in God’s king­dom. Jesus was Jew­ish. He went to syn­a­gogue as was his tra­di­tion” and cel­e­brat­ed holy days such as Passover. But Jesus also healed on the Sab­bath. Jesus points us to a God who is able to work with­in insti­tu­tions and order, a God who is too big to be confined. 

God is con­stant­ly col­or­ing out­side the lines. Jesus chal­lenges the struc­tures that oppress and exclude, and busts through any tra­di­tions that put lim­i­ta­tions on love. Love can­not be harnessed.

Litur­gy is pub­lic poet­ry and art. You can make beau­ti­ful art by splash­ing paint on a wall, and you can also make art with the care­ful dili­gence of a sculp­tor. Both can be love­ly, and both can be ugly. Both can be mar­ket­ed and robbed of their orig­i­nal touch, and both have the poten­tial to inspire and move peo­ple to do some­thing beau­ti­ful for God.

So it is with wor­ship. More impor­tant than whether some­thing is old or new, win­some or clas­sic is whether it is real. The Scrip­tures tell us to test the spir­its,” and the true test of the spir­it of a thing is whether it moves us clos­er to God and to our suf­fer­ing neigh­bor. Does it have fruit out­side of our own good feelings?

Beau­ty must hear­ken to some­thing beyond us. It should cause us to do some­thing beau­ti­ful for God in the world.

Excerpt­ed from Com­mon Prayer Pock­et Edi­tion: A Litur­gy for Ordi­nary Rad­i­cals by Shane Clai­born, Jonathan Wil­son-Hart­grave, and Enu­ma Oko­ro (New York; Harper­Collins-Zon­der­van, 2012), pp. 175 – 176.

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