Recently, I was reminded of a long-standing frustration I have as I gathered my thoughts on what church is supposed to be and what is actually happening.
I left the Catholic Church several years ago, and though I feel like I have landed in a church I’m growing to love, I still find myself searching for a true depth of faith I want to encounter, not just in others, but also in myself.
I want it to be like those guys on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:32). You know, when they were bellyaching about how their lives were upended and all of a sudden they realized their hearts “were on fire” as they walked with this guy who showed up out of nowhere? I had my own experience of that in Kentucky and it changed my life!
In the past, I was great at shaking my finger – at someone, anyone, to blame for the indifference to God’s call to Love that I witnessed almost daily:The clergy, bishops, the Pope, but not the faithful sitting unaware in the pews (if they’re sitting there at all). Never those poor innocent folks in the pews.
I assumed that for some reason beyond their consciousness – poor religious instruction or perhaps sucky sermons that can rival Ambien’s affect as a sleep medication – they have never encountered the “living” Christ. How is that supposed to happen when we’re either nodding off in the pew or thinking of that much anticipated Super Bowl in just a few hours (more on that later).
If liturgy is, as I learned from Catholic Church teaching, the “source and summit” of faith then it must give meaning to our lives. Right? Meaning that should cause us to sit in stunned silence in the presence of the Incarnate Word of God. Where, in awe and wonder, we remove our sandals on what is surely holy ground.
Gradually then, it would seem, Sunday after Sunday, we would fall in love with Love. Perhaps we would begin to squirm in the pew we once found comfortable as we realize that God is calling us to a responsibility to respond to that Love. It’s really not optional if we call ourselves “Christian” you know.
Liturgy, from the Greek leitourgia, means “the work of the people”. That’s all of us, every single one! Let’s look back at the early church where it began – with Jesus himself. Think of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper. Think of John resting on Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus poured the wine, washed their feet, loved on them and said, “Do this in memory of Me, always recall My love for you, prepare yourselves for the work I’m calling you to. Sooooo, what are you waiting for? Get out there and love on people!” I can guarantee you that not once during that supper did Jesus or any of his apostles ruminate on the Super Bowl or long for hot wings while consuming dry bread. Not one of them!
But, we do. The significance and power of our worship seems to be all but lost today. It isn’t confined to the Pastor. There isn’t a list of formalities we can check off: Enter, bow, glare at the person who’s sitting in your spot, gaze out the stained glass windows past the tearful widow next to you, tune out the sermon, rush out the door. Repeat.
Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me. But, don’t stop there!” He gives us explicit instructions to respond in action, to go out to “love and serve the Lord”. Every part of our worship should lead us to that end.
Here’s what, I believe, a life of faith should look like. It’s what I strive for and so often fail miserably at. We go to church to be nurtured by God’s Word; to seek and know we are forgiven for our sins. We are challenged by the sermon, share the peace and love of God with others and then are sent out to be Christ to a hurting world. But if, instead, we sit as silent spectators simply waiting to get our card punched for the week, a broken world suffers the loss. What is missing? Many people today say they can be spiritual without the Church. Those who simply “show up” also miss the point.
Here’s a question for you: Who wants to watch the Super Bowl alone? We surround ourselves with friends and indulge in a feast made for a king. It’s a party! If we could only approach liturgy with that same excitement. We are called to prepare our hearts and minds at the banquet table where we celebrate the love of God.
Guys, the liturgy is a feast; a celebration of God’s extravagant Love. We relish the fires of hot wings while the fire of the Holy Spirit lies smoldering in our hearts. This realization always causes me to point my finger in the mirror again and again. Perhaps many believers have not encountered the living Christ, but I have. Yet, I too am often resistant to His deepest call to love.
Mary Collins speaks of “God-seekers” who “risk more than the ordinary. They risk their sanity….The rest of us go to church”. It’s too frightening. We don’t want the responsibility to love like that. We want that left to those “holy” people we often read about. But….
What if we had an Emmaus encounter with Christ right in the midst of communion?
What if we actually saw Christ proclaiming God’s lavish, magnificent, and unending Love?
What if we turned to offer others the sign of peace and Christ took our hand?
What if in our “Amen” we meant it? “Amen” means, “Yep, I wholeheartedly agree!” It doesn’t mean “let me think about that and get back to you.”
What if in sheer gratitude for God’s self-giving Love, Christ in our midst, we became that very Love emptied and spilled out into the world? Catherine Vincie calls this “the prophetic function of a dangerous memory”.
Then, how dangerous would this be – what if we saw Jesus Himself as the primary sacrament of grace. Could we handle that? All forms of love, goodness, sacrifice, and resurrection are salvific. In this sense Jesus is the greatest sacrament of all. Why does that reality not trump football? Why does Jesus always have to be competing with a cheap imitation?