Contemplating Sabbath … Part 2

In case you missed it, here is a link for Part 1 of my discussion of Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Now on to Part 2.

The other part of the Introduction that  I found interesting was Buchanan’s discussion of “Liturgy”. First, he reminds those of us from Low Church traditions have liturgy as much as High Church traditions do. We just don’t call them that!

[The] Low Church is just as bound by liturgy as any church, and maybe more so because we think we’re not. The Low Church enshrines — makes liturgy of — austerity, spontaneity, informality. And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols. (page 8, emphasis in the original)

That is a good reminder. We have our rituals, even if it is not the written liturgy of what scriptures to read and what responsive readings and hymns to sing. We raise our hand at certain points in certain songs. We clap in time to some songs, but not others. We have a dress code, of sorts. We have our usual area of the congregation to sit. It is all a ritual that brings comfort, which is fine, as long as we are aware of it and recognize the effects that it has on our lives.

What is new, to me at least, is his exposition of the choice of the word liturgy to describe the order of worship. According to Buchanan, there was a more logical choice in the early days of the church: orgy. (He claims that at that time it did not have all of the “sordid overtones” that we now ascribe to that word.) Here is his definition of the usage of each term:

Liturgy originally meant a public work — something accomplished by a community for the community. A town bridge, for instance, or a village well, or a city wall: something built by the people and for the people. (page 9)

Orgy now has sordid overtones. But in the days of the early church, it didn’t, or at least the sordidness was still in the background. Orgy described a public event that produced a private, usually ecstatic, experience. It was the word pagan religions used for their worship, regardless of how many people were involved — and the more, the better — the emphasis was always squarely on the emotional experience of the individual. (page 9)

Based on these definitions, Buchanan turns the corner and continues …

[Orgy] was all about me.
Not so liturgy. Liturgy is done by me — I am invited, perhaps required, to play a role — but it’s not about me. It’s about us. It is about the Other. Its purpose is to benefit the entire community — to provide protection or access to all. One of the more common uses of the word in the ancient world was for the making of a bridge. Liturgy is bridge building. It is to construct something that spans separate worlds and provides an efficient means of crossing from one to the other. (pages 9-10, emphasis in the original)

Wow. Assuming that he is correct in this interpretation, doesn’t liturgy seem much more exciting than we usually assume that it is? Reading this reminds me of the best about liturgy (or Sabbath, prayer, etc.). When these things are at their best, they make a connection between us and God that draws us out of our self-centered experience and connects us with others in a community that is seeking to connect with God. Orgy was about self-gratification. Sadly, much of the Church has been tempted by this over the years. Do we look at a church and evaluate what we get out of it? Do we say “it just didn’t meet my/our needs” as we walk out the door to try another church? Liturgy, whether High Church or Low Church, should remind us that the Church in general, and our worship, is not about making us feel better, but about us as a community bridging in some mysterious way the gap between our finite, mortal selves and the infinite, immortal God. Traditions and habits that help us do that are welcome, but we should get rid of traditions that get in the way of that bridge-building and serve to isolate us or focus us on ourselves rather than the Other (to use Buchanan’s term).

I’m looking forward to where this book will go next, since what I’m reading so far has resonated with me and the things that God has been reminding me of over the last few years of my walk with Him. Part 3 to follow …

2 comments on “Contemplating Sabbath … Part 2

  1. […] Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. If you missed the previous parts, here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part […]

  2. […] Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. If you missed the previous parts, here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part […]

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