In her sermon, “Looking up into Heaven,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes about worship: “It is one of the most peculiar things twentieth-century human beings can do, to come together week after week with no intention of being useful or productive, but only of facing an ornate wall to declare things they cannot prove about a God they cannot see.”
You would think that I, a minister of the Gospel, take worship for granted. After all, I’m always the one amongst my peers advocating for liturgy and tradition, the lectionary and a devotion to the Christian year. That is not always so; sometimes I think worship is–as implied in the quote above–odd.
There were two epiphanies I had that got me thinking about just how strange worship is: An epiphany came when I did my second baptism. My first baptism was a special one–a teenager who recently declared her faith in Christ. But the second one was of a mother, a few years older than I. It was my job to literally dunk her head under water in front of a hundred people. Odd indeed.
The second epiphany came when I read Taylor’s sermon last Sunday. I preached on the Magnificat that morning, and I was wondering what new angle I could take on this whole Christmas story. I was not in the best of moods. I figured that if anyone could make me feel better, it was Taylor, my favorite author.
And there in the sermon was her quirky admission about the oddity of worship.
As the worship wars continue to take casualties in churches across the nation, dividing Christians between those who practice seemingly “contemporary” models and more historical, “traditional” models, it seems fair to say that all of us include the strange brew of song and proclamation in every service. Whether yours is a church that observes Advent or one that takes random song recommendations from the congregation, we all come to hear the Word of God. Again and again.
It is precisely in Advent, however, that we are reminded that worship represents something deeper than just a bunch of people getting together to sing familiar songs. Worship is the catalyst for our experience of God, but it also connects us to holy time. One hour a week is all we devote to the divine truth that our time on earth is not ours to control or keep. We order our steps according to God’s purpose for our life, and we realign our needs and desires every week to conform to His destiny.
Advent is the first season in the Christian year. It is the beginning of the holy calendar, and those of us who incorporate liturgy in our worship know that we can count on God despite how we feel from week to week. Liturgy, in effect, is like a routine. We don’t feel anything sometimes–worship sometimes amounts to simply facing an ornate wall–but we go through the routine because we know that it is good for us and will, eventually, produce a bountiful harvest of God’s grace.
What better than to share the oddity with a group of authentic, broken people who long for a broken Christ to offer the broken bread of God’s love? We are a fragile community, but we place our hope in the truth that death does not have the last say on our life, or on the lives of those whom we love.
Rather than wandering aimlessly through the universe to form our faith by mere pomp and circumstance, we can appreciate how worship, and Advent specifically, is a constellation that points to the deeper truth wrapped up in God’s holy time. We are not our own, and our time is holy, whether we know it or not.