Discovering Liturgy

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We get the word ‘liturgy’ from the Greek word leitourgia.

“It meant an action by which a group of people become something corporately which they had not been as a mere collection of individuals – a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It meant also a function or ‘ministry’ of a man or of a group of behalf of and in the interest of the whole community […] Thus the Church itself is a leitourgia, a ministry, a calling to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear testimony to Him and His kingdom.”

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 25

I have grown up in Christian communities that, by and large, do not use any form of liturgy in meetings and worship. By this, I don’t mind liturgy in the sense that Schmemann talks about leitourgia, but in the sense that we talk about a style of church service.

Up until recently, ‘liturgy’ was an alien word to me. It came with connotations of rigidity and structure that seemed totally at odds with my understanding of charismatic enthusiasm and Spirit-led worship.

I was wrong about liturgy in every sense. I was wrong to think that the more formal, traditional style of church service was not conducive to the same Spirit-filled worship that I experienced in charismatic settings, and I was wrong to think that there was no way that it could apply more broadly to any Christian setting, be they ‘liturgical’ or ‘non-liturgical’.

As I experienced today in a beautiful service at the parish church in Beeston, liturgical worship can be just as moving as any charismatic worship music. For me, in a time where I find it hard to engage with a lot of sung worship, it was arguably more engaging and involving than the church services that I’m useful (please don’t read that as me saying that one is better than the other).

I don’t want this to be a long post that gets off track, so I want to make sure I emphasise the liturgical (in the broader, leitourgia sense of the word) nature of all churches, from the parish church to my regular church Trent Vineyard. All churches that I have heard of value community in some level, and through the imagery of the body of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit recognise that, as the Church, we are capable of more as a community than we are as any number of individuals.

There is plural language in the Bible that emphasises this idea that God’s plan is for the whole, the collective. Just take a look at the Lord’s prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we have also forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”

The idea of ‘liturgy,’ of a united body coming together in worship and becoming more than we are as individuals, is beautiful. It underlies the times that you stand together and recite the creed, the times that you join and sing the latest worship songs, the times that you read the Bible in twos and threes, and all the other moments of community that make Christian life so special.

Wherever you are and whatever Christian tradition you come from, I think there is something beautiful about remembering this concept of liturgy, leitourgia, as you go about your lives. At its core is unity under the sovereignty of God, and I think that’s something worth believing in.

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