Liturgy is like maple syrup. It's condensed and boiled down language, drawn from the lifeblood of the trees, but then reduced to the purest sticky thing.
Those of us who lead liturgies with some regularity are almost overwhelmed this week with the beauty and magnitude of it all. Each Sunday is the eighth day, the Lord's day, and hopefully every Sunday liturgy reflects at least in part the glory of the new creation made nimble in Christ.
But this week, Holy Week, the liturgies crackle with symbolism, disturb us with their out-of-orderedness, surprise us with dramatic shifts from deepest lament to profoundest hope.
Right now, for example, I have the Good Friday bulletin draft in front of me. There is the prayer of the day (sometimes called the 'collect' because it collects the theme of the service in a short prayer). It reads:
Almighty God, look with loving mercy on your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, to be given over to the hands of sinners, and to suffer death on the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
This prayer, alone could be enough for an hour, perhaps two, of quiet meditation. It draws into prayer God's family, Christ's suffering, and the hope of his life in the Trinity. It reaches out, grinds down, then points up.
Worshippers could do any number of things with this prayer. They could then compare it later to other aspects of the Good Friday liturgy. It is preparing them to hear Isaiah, and the gospel lesson. By naming us sinners, it prepares us for the Bidding Prayers that will follow the sermon. There are likely echoes of this prayer in the hymns.
And then, if we let the liturgy seep into our bones, the liturgy can also carry us out into the liturgy of the quotidian so that we might experience Christ and his suffering not just in prayer around his Cross on Good Friday, but in other aspects of our lives.
Like my kids, who sometimes chant portions of the liturgy while they play--absentmindedly at times but always still prayerful--the liturgy can be the language we speak not simply in worship, but in our souls at work or play.
Like syrup that sticks to the side of the lips, or so sweet we can remember the echo of the flavor later, there is a richness to this language of prayer that grounds and centers us.
Liturgy isn't just for liturgy. Liturgy is for life.
As all of us prepare to observe the Three Day, and the diverse parts of Christ's final days on which we meditate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter day, I invite us to take some of this language of the liturgy and incorporate it into our lives. Take a chant to work. Pray a psalm at bedtime. Chew on the liturgy like a flavorful candy. Let it energize and enliven your walk.
Because more than anything else, the liturgy is itself participation in the life of Christ. Christ, as the living Word, imbues all other prayer with his very self. That hymn you sing with others--that is Christ. That cross around which you gather--it is the suffering Christ present with us. Liturgy is a glimpse of heaven on earth. And this is true not because it is done particularly well (although we hope it is) but because heaven has promised to show up there in Christ. Wherever two or three are gathered...
Holy Week blessings to all.