I decided to write a special post on Easter and why this is so important to the church (or should be).
Let’s begin by explaining the title of this post. Many either have never heard the word “liturgy” or have negative connotations to it. Liturgy simply put, means “order” and is typically in context to order of worship in church worship gatherings. Many associate liturgy with prayers from the book of common prayer (BCP) or from other prayer books like the Valley Of Vision, or Book Of Common Worship (BCW). Though this is what the word liturgy is typically referring to, it doesn’t have to. In the broader sense, every church in the world has a liturgy. Some are simpler and more basic, while other churches which are also known as “high church” may have a very long, rigorous, meticulously planned worship order. Catholic churches would be a good example of this. Many traditional Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches are also very traditional in their liturgy.
Today is Good Friday. Traditionally, this is observed as the day Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. If you go to a special Good Friday gathering, they will often be very dark, solemn, and might feel very much like a funeral, with hope and celebration for what is to come sprinkled like salt throughout the gathering. I’m leading one such gathering tonight, and it will be nothing short of how I just described it. But its an amazing and very special, intimate time. If you’ve never been to one, I encourage you to find one and go to it!
The Church Calendar
Many churches observe the church calendar that is universally accepted amongst the oldest denominations. This is where we get Holy Week (This past week); the week leading up to Easter that consists of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (celebrates the moment Jesus washed His disciples’ feet), and Good Friday. Some even hold an Easter Vigil on Saturday night that is held until midnight Sunday morning. This is often by candlelight until the end and is very much similar to what you might think of when you think of a Candlelight Christmas Eve gathering.
I argue for the observance and participation of the church calendar for one main reason. I believe the church calendar keeps us tethered to the big picture, or grand story of God. Where each season of the calendar teaches us many things and helps be a vivid reminder of different areas of our faith, it also points to a time in particular. I’ve always looked at the liturgical calendar as a bit of a slow and steady crescendo to Easter. Easter is, in a way, the culmination of liturgy. Just as Jesus is the culmination of all creation. When I first began to truly understand that Jesus was the beginning and end of all things, that all creation was created in, through, and for Him, and that the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to Jesus, the idea of liturgy, or rather a means for telling the Story of God in our worship, made a lot more sense to me.
The “Stuff” Of Church Life
I feel like its really easy to get caught up in the “stuff” of church on a weekly basis, forgetting why we actually are supposed to be there in the first place. This fact is never more apparent in many churches than on Easter morning! This should be the one time a year that it is clear why we are there and what we are doing, and yet the message gets lost in the rambling of the messengers. So many churches take this opportunity (understandably so) to capitalize on the fact that so many people who don’t normally attend church will go with family and friends on Easter morning. Churches will, in a sense, put all their best cards on the table and pack the gathering with special songs, choirs, dramas, videos, etc. It’s almost a sensory overload. And you leave wondering what the whole point really was.
The Church needs to get back to the basics. Matt Redman wrote a song so many years ago called “Heart Of Worship.” Most Christians in my neck of the woods probably know it, and you probably do too if you’ve been indoctrinated in Christian culture from the last few decades. This is one of the songs from its time period that I actually still like today. I don’t care much for the melody or music, but the words ring true for us all today, but especially the Church! The Church needs to rediscover the Heart of worship and find its first Love again. We so easily get side-tracked with meetings and small groups and Bible studies and fellowship dinners and the difference between traditional worship and “contemporary” worship (whatever that means anymore) that we have completely lost sight of Jesus and we are sinking very quickly in the rivers of doubt, hopelessness, and despair. It’s when we forget who Jesus really is that we begin to get lost in our own misdirected interpretations of Scripture and start believing lies and preaching our falsehoods to all that will listen. Before long someone else will think you are speaking truth based on your confidence, and in the blink of an eye a whole group of people find themselves in a place that Jesus never wanted us to be in. We become a hate-group that meets to bash other groups of people that disagree with us, or we hate them because we disagree with their lifestyle. Or we threaten to leave the church because someone moves our seat or sits in our spot on the pew in the third row, or God forbid they bring in a drum set or turn up the volume. We no longer want to help feed the homeless because they are dirty and dangerous and threaten our upper middle-class bubble. But I digress…
The Opportunity of Easter
This week you have an opportunity to experience Jesus anew. You can meet Him tonight at the foot of the cross as the one who took on the sins of the world, the sins of your life, and bore them on the cross and took them to death for you, and you can celebrate with other people that Jesus died for you and all that holds you back from approaching the throne of God. Or you can celebrate this Sunday morning with other followers of Christ and worship and celebrate in thankfulness at the glory of His resurrection. Jesus raised Himself from the dead after taking our sin to His grave and left it in the ground. Jesus conquered our ultimate mortal enemy. Easter is the celebration of Jesus being alive today, while simultaneously anticipating His return where He will reconcile the earth and everything in it to Himself, casting out all darkness and despair and ushering in His Kingdom in its fullness on Earth.
Maybe you are new to the whole Jesus thing, or maybe you’ve been around for a while and never knew Jesus. It happens. It’s ok.
I hope this Easter that you will look past all the flashy moving parts of church and cast your eyes beyond all the screens and words and people and truly and completely see Jesus, standing alive over your grave and reminding us all that our God is not dead, that death did not defeat Him, nor will He ever be defeated. Death couldn’t hold Him down. This is something to sing about, to dance about, to cry about, to scream about, to fall on our knees in utter and eternal thankfulness for. Not because of what He did for us, but because of who He is! Yes it’s amazing that He died for you and me and we have access to God and grace everlasting and all that…But have you ever stopped to think about who Jesus really is because of what he has done? He accomplished so much and He only did it because of who He is.
I personally don’t worship Jesus because of what He did for me, but because of who He is and what He accomplished and what He still is accomplishing. Jesus’ promises, His words, and all He does will stand by Himself, and all of creation points to Him and declares the majesty of the One who was slain, buried, and in the fullness of the glory of God He rose with the keys of death and Hell, and is alive today.
The Path To God’s Heart
The crazy thing is that Liturgy tells this story and reminds us week in and week out all year long that Jesus is who we are there to meet, experience, and know. Liturgy is the guide that helps us stay on the path. The Bible is our teaching guide that keeps us on the path of God’s words, but liturgy is our worship guide that keeps us on the path to God’s heart. Liturgy reminds us that we are all strands in a very large cloth that was woven together in the beginning of all things, and will be presented to Christ the groom in the form of a bride dressed in white. We are all together in this, and liturgy reminds us of that. I hope you will see ancient traditions of the church not as stale, outdated, and lifeless, but rather as a misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented order to all our worship to God. It tells the story, it guides the path, and it gives us a lamp to see our feet so that we may know our steps to the heart of God and be unified together in Christ every time we meet.
May you have a gloriously grace-filled, lovely, sweet, awe-inspiring worship gathering this Sunday morning. I hope you meet Christ either for the first time, or like it’s the first time.
O happy day.