Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One of Those Pet Peeves, Worship Edition

I know I can be ornery. Sometimes, though, it is for good reason.

I recently preached at a conference, and looking at a book catalogue from that Alban Institute, and coming across this idea again, I'm motivated to post a portion of my sermon. (Much of the sermon was weak enough that I'm not feeling all that compelled to post the whole thing; suffice to say that tag "lex orandi, lex credendi" is another of those pet peeves. Maybe I'll tidy it up for later.)
If the misuse of Prosper of Aquitaine's tag lex orandi lex credendi is shibboleth 1 today, there is a second: that oft-quoted definition of liturgy that is so often found in church bulletins: the notion that liturgy is the work of the people.

This is problematic, because again, grace is obscured by this notion.

If we read Hebrews 8:6 – the single time we find the word leitourgia in the New Testament – we find that liturgy is not, in a primary sense, our work. Hebrews comes much closer to the classical definition of liturgy, not “the work of the people,” but rather "public work done at private cost." And this "more excellent ministry," as the NRSV translates it, is that of Christ: the ministry of the high priest, the one making a heavenly and graceful offering of himself, the better covenant made complete in him.

The primary liturgy of the Christian people is found in the work and person of Christ, the primary liturgy of the Christian people is the sacrificial life of Jesus, the true high priest, the holy one of Israel, presenting the offertory gift of himself on our behalf.

The good news is that worship is not primarily our work, but that it is in a far more fundamental way the work of Christ in his faithfulness; a faithfulness that cost him his life; a faithfulness that makes way to resurrection; and is a work done on our behalf, making possible our salvation, through a cost borne by him before it is ever borne by us.

Any work done by us is dependent on this grace, a grace that precedes any notion of the people’s work, the grace that is the crucifixion and resurrection, our first worship, and the first Christian liturgy.

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