This post is a bit longer than most – I suppose that since I am heading off for a month of vacation I felt a bit verbose.
One of the things I have been struck by in the conversations about General Convention and the Episcopal Church is the energy we spend on what we think about being the Body rather than what we do that makes us the Body. I would argue that the works of justice that we advocate for are part of our life as the Body. I would also argue that a firmness in doctrine is also required to bind us together as the Body. Neither justice nor the quest to articulate our relationship to the Triune God are indifferent matters. We seem eager to create ghettos – to carve out homogeneous and pure bodies within the Body who are doing it just right with our own slang and in-talk. Jesus is so lucky to have us.
I have found that this exercise has emphasized that which we have always struggled with as Anglicans – uniformity of belief. Throughout our history we have navigated the Catholic and Reformed strains and struggled with the melding of politics and religion. Through all of this, we have maintained our identity through common worship. We have prayed together, broken bread together, and listened to one another with a common language, with a common prayer.
It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship. We must strive anew for a way of being the Body together. The world’s, and the Church’s, desperate need now is for that expanded awareness of the presence of God – the enlarging of the Eucharistic action to encompass relationships that desperately need healing, hearts that are broken, hopes that are shattered, memories that are fraught with pain, and even nations that seem lost.
The Incarnation has sanctified the whole of creation. Adoring God made known to us in the flesh of man opens us to sharing in his love for all of humanity. One part of the Eucharistic action is that we are made one with Christ – not so that we are made ever more privately holy – but so that we can approach the world around us as ever more blessed – ever more worthy of love and thanksgiving because it is beloved of God.
“Do this in remembrance” was not a command given so that we would remember any one earthly event. “Do this in remembrance” is commanded that we might know where our true hope and glory lie.
Through the Sacraments, prayer, thanksgiving, and adoration we are drawn ever more to the source of our peace – that place where we can dwell and know that we are the beloved of God. Where we are held by the Good Shepherd – are branches of the vine – may drink of the Living Water – dwell within the refuge – be protected by a mighty warrior whose name is Yahweh. In all of these images, God longs to be with us and protect us, for all eternity, in a way that no one image can capture. It is this God that we come before in praise and thanksgiving.
Ultimately our hope and our salvation and our joy are not found in the worries of the day – nor even in the answers we find to those everyday worries. Our joy comes when we can surrender and know the hope of things eternal – when we see the totality of our life as the Body as bound to the eternity of God.
The liturgy is the expression of the Body’s questing for unity with the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ. In its use of pattern, connection, arrangement, movement, and varying celebrations of more and less significance. Its mirror of life is natural for it reflects the lived and living experience of a Body. Gregory Dix cites S. Augustine in writing, “The spiritual benefit which is there understood is unity, that being joined to His Body and made His members we may be what we receive.” We receive not simply the sacramental grace of the Body and Blood but become that Body. Moreover, we become a constitutive part of the passion narrative as we take on the form and incorporate the meaning of offering and sacrifice. Meaning and order are mediated by the reality we take in at the Eucharist so that we become not so much pattern-seeking but become part of the very pattern of the divine order – we become the Body.
The individual is ill-equipped to search for meaning or form in isolation. I would broaden this to individual parishes, denominations, and Churches. We need one another. The liturgical enactment of the community mediates the ebbs and flows of personal perception of and receptivity to divine love. The action of the Eucharist is not simply a recitation or re-creation of history but a process of creation of new living meaning within the Body of the faithful. The ebbs and flows of individual perception are moderated and mediated in the corporate action of worship. Gregory Dix claims, “As the anamnesis of the passion, the eucharist is perpetually creative of the church, which is the fruit of that passion.” New meaning is found and incorporated as the community enacts the liturgy together so that the individual is not left adrift in wonderment, but is drawn ever deeper into the realization of divine promise – we are woven into the pattern.
Our participation in the life of the Holy brings about a kind of cognitive dissonance in which we recognize that our imperfections and those of the world around us may be brought into greater harmony with the divine. Moreover, we gain a sensitivity to those things which are out of balance in ourselves and the world around us as we are exposed to patterns of holiness and divine love. The individual can fail in apprehension when they discern the essence of Holy Communion either to be too individual an affair or too global. Without understanding the convicting power of the Sacrament, they are not truly coming into the realization of the divine order that is promised nor the sacrifice that is called for.
The call to properly discern is part of the mission of the Church at large and is essential to the edification of its members. Dix states, “the idea of the Holy Communion as a purely personal affair, which concerns only those persons who feel helped by such things…is nothing less than the atomizing of the Body of Christ.” Worship can never be a personal affair, nor can true religion. Worship which loses sight of the totality of creation, of our relationships, of the world around us, ceases to be worship and becomes another form of individual therapy. We are called to worship, to the work of adoration, which is necessarily not an act of self-regard but of oblation and self-giving. The model for this oblation is, of course, Christ and we enter into that oblation as a community which discerns the Body and seeks its restoration.
This oblation of self is taught in the unfolding of the Eucharist. In the actions of offering and breaking, we see the model of self-giving enacted and re-enacted and we are provided the grace of the Sacrament so as to be empowered to do likewise and to be so offered and willing to offer. This experience is brought about by an encounter with the Christ of heaven and earth. The Christian, with this model of self-offering, enters the memorial action that has been repeated across time and space and makes his or herself one with the sacrifice once offered and passes into the loving and guiding hand of God.
It is the perpetual dying of the person and the perpetual new life in Christ that is made possible by the action of the Spirit and in the memory and action of the community. This new experience of life and potential are mediated by Christ for he is the center of the action and memory of the community.
Any human advancement that is made by the Church must be an advance in our understanding of the life and death of Christ. This revelation of our life in and with Christ not only calls us to ever-offer that which we are to that which we may be, but also, paradoxically, affirms the value of humans to God. As objects of divine love, we are called to closer and deeper relationship to God through Christ. The men and women of the Church are an offering that is acceptable in the sight of God. It is in the striving to be worthy of offering and the yearning for holiness that the nexus of the divine-human relationship is found – in that moment when our sacrifice is joined to Christ’s.
If we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation in the Mass – how do we look upon God’s children with anything less than love and adoration?
If we adore the Body of Christ – how do we then condone torture done in our name?
If we participate in the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice – how do we allow so many around us to be sacrificed to the zeal of nations or plots of terror?
If we glory in the Resurrection – how do we condemn others to the grave in our hearts?
If we ask for forgiveness for thoughts, words, and deeds – how do we then turn our minds to hate?
If we anticipate his coming again with power and glory – how do we allow the use of power to be glorified?
If we present an offering and sacrifice to God for his use – how do we allow our wealth to be used to degrade those around us?
If we anticipate that heavenly country – how do we allow the one around us to be lost to anger and despair?
If we know, are drawn to, are called by Christ made present on the altar – how can we surrender to despair?
In other words, worship feeds justice. Justice flows naturally from true adoration. The Church, to be the Church, must offer both with passion and joy.