A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty that he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week, Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, "It is all right--believe it or not--to be people." Who can believe it?
- Annie Dillard, 20th c.
lit⋅ur⋅gy | lĭt'ər-jēderived from the Greek lāos (people) + ergon (work) = the work of the people
One cannot be a Christian alone. This might be somewhat of a shocking statement in our culture where spirituality has become such a private, individualistic matter. It’s not uncommon to even hear Christians refer to Jesus as their “personal” Lord and Savior which, although it is true in one sense, can imply that one’s relationship to Christ can happen in isolation of a community.
Perhaps if someone wanted to, they could go to their local bookstore and stock up on devotional material, read the Bible every day, say their prayers at night, and live as best they can according to the way of Jesus. It would certainly be an honorable way to live.
But it would not be Christianity—at least not as Jesus envisioned it. When God sent the Spirit of the living Christ upon humanity, it wasn’t so each person could go off to their own little cubicle and have a private relationship with God. God sent the Spirit to create the Church—the body of Christ—a community gathered from every nation and every walk of life to be God’s people together.
When this community gathers each Sunday, we don’t just sit and listen to someone talk, or watch someone special do things up front. We do something together. We sing, we pray, we listen, we eat, and we sometimes even dance. (Okay, so we don’t really dance, but some Lutherans do…and maybe we can learn if you help us…)
We take water and splash it around. We take oil and smear it on foreheads. We light candles, burn incense, and read from the holy book. We greet one another in peace. We share bread and wine with awe and great joy. And then, once everyone has had their fill, we get sent out.
All these things—these ordinary things of earth—by themselves are not much. But when they are used to proclaim the love of God in Jesus, they reveal something extraordinary:that wherever people gather in his name, Christ is truly present. Not just in a “spiritual” way, not just in an intellectual way, but in a flesh-and-blood way.
Christ is present in the face of the person sitting next to you, whether they are your enemy or best friend. Christ is present in the water from the baptismal font, reminding us that we have been washed in God’s grace and made new people from the inside out. Christ is present in the liberating words of the gospel, freeing us from our sins and raising us to new life. Christ is present in the bread and wine, joining his life with ours and feeding us with his love.
These things we do not because we have to, or because some book tells us to, or because by doing them we earn points with God. We do them because when we do them, we see Jesus—together. We are strengthened and renewed—together. We are empowered for service—together.
That is the work of the people. That is liturgy.