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Life’s liturgies

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For many years, the rhythm of my life was determined by the school calendar. New Year’s Day seemed a random date in the middle of winter – my year began in September when classes commenced, and ended in June when they wrapped up, leaving the summer months for other pursuits.

For others, it’s sports. The year begins with baseball preseason, gathers momentum through the dog days of August, and climaxes with the World Series, leaving fans to wait until players return to the diamond in February.

Gardeners carefully watch the signs of the earth. The climatic cycles determine the seasons of their life: planting in spring, weeding in summer, harvest and clean-up in fall, and planning and anticipating throughout winter.

Here at the MB Herald, our lives are timed to the two weeks each month we spend sewing together the pieces to create the magazine that arrives in your home. The weeks gearing up are more relaxed; there’s time to take in the occasional lecture, to peruse Mennonite and evangelical publications. But when graphic designer Audrey arrives at the beginning of the production cycle, we kick it up a gear, with advertising ready and content edited for her to marry images and words in a pleasing way.

All our lives are governed by attention to some rhythm of work, be it paid or otherwise.
As Gay Lynn Voth explains (page 13), liturgy – which evangelical Anabaptists have sometimes regarded with suspicion – originally meant “the work of the people.” We often associate liturgy with the written prayers and confessions of the High Church traditions, but liturgy, as Anglican canon Frank Lomax wrote, “is something more fundamental than the words of a fixed order of worship enshrined in a book.”

In the context of Christianity, liturgy is not just the work of the people, but the work of God: it represents the new era in God’s dealing with humanity, initiated by the work of Jesus. Liturgy tells the story of salvation.

Work of the people, work of God

In the narrow sense of worship and service order, liturgy educates and reinforces biblical concepts through repetition and structure. Phrases intoned and responded to, Scripture recited, and prayers sung each Sunday – these rituals drill the tenets of faith into church members’ spirits.

Just as churches (whether scripted or more spontaneous in style) shape their worship in a particular way week after week, so also people are shaped by patterns of thought, behaviour, and activity – a liturgy of sorts. As Christians, we’re instructed to incorporate reminders of who God is. Psalm 119 gives a picture of a God-governed life as it weaves through the Hebrew alphabet, extolling God, his law, and the obedience of it: “I run in the path of your commands” (32), “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (37), “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises” (147–148).

This kind of life permeated by the law of God does not come about by accident, but by conscious decision. In Deuteronomy 11:18–19, God commands the Israelites to “fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Repetitions and schedules – liturgies – do not necessarily equal dead sacramentalism but can contribute to vibrant spirituality.

Paul Woodburn alludes, in his article on the four Rs of worship (pages 11–13), that liturgy is dual-directional: it’s directed toward God, in adoration and humility, but is also directed toward other people, to teach and encourage. Relationship with God and fellow Christians, and response to God and our neighbour, are foundational components of the remembering and revelation that comprise our worship. As God’s community gathered, and his ambassadors serving, may the offering of bodies as living sacrifices and the transforming of our minds through the renewal of Jesus Christ lead us into true worship (Romans 12:1–2).

Consider the rhythms that shape how we do things, in what order, and how they affect us, both as congregations and individuals.

What liturgies shape your life?

Karla Braun is associate editor of the MB Herald.

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