Mark Buchanan on Liturgy

In his wonderful book, The Rest of God:  Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan muses on the meaning of “liturgy”:

“I was converted within a Low Church tradition … Yet over time I began to realize 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 a liturgy of–austerity, spontaneity, informality.  And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols.  We love our traditions, even our rigmarole, every bit as much as the next guy, only ours is earthy, rustic, folksy.

“So I changed my mind about liturgy.  It certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything … At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality.  It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions.  It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.

“Our most significant relationships and events have a liturgical shape to them.  They have rites of passage.  Birthdays and homecomings, graduations and good-byes.  Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, birth and death and marriage:  all are marked by words and actions, songs and symbols, customs and traditions that enact them and complete them.  And all these things also provide us with a means of entering them.  What is a birthday without a cake, at least one candle burning on it, and a huddle of well-wishers, wearing clownish hats, singing in their ragged, hoary voices?  What is a birthday without a liturgy?

“What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing:  It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday.  It lets us glimpse the deeper reality–the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above–within this particular instance of it” (The Rest of God, 8-9).

Buchanan goes on to explain meaning of the Greek word for “liturgy” in its ancient context, and why it was “odd” for the early church to use it to describe its public worship. But, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself.  It’s well worth it!

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