Blessings, Michelle

Finishing up her final semester at seminary, this former news reporter looks forward to begin full-time Christian ministry in the Anglican tradition.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thinking out loud about Liturgy and Sacraments

Martyrdom of St. Stephen


So, I read this chapter from a book that my uber-cool seminary advisor wanted me to read as I prepare for my December canonical exams. It was the first chapter of Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding by Robert Taft. I met with my advisor this afternoon and I’m still processing what we talked about and what this article is about.

Basically, Taft argues that Liturgy and Sacraments are ways in which the eternal, permanent results of God’s gift of himself to Christ in the Spirit (quoting Patrick Regan, 1977) and Jesus’ death, resurrection and ongoing priesthood and sacrifice in Heaven on our behalf becomes present and real to us and dwells in us by faith.

OK, let’s see if I can say that more simply in a way that I can understand it! The purpose of liturgy and sacrament is for us to recall God’s saving acts, which are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But not just to recall them, but to be united with Christ and enter into them, ourselves. To be Christians is to be “little Christs,” and as such, our lives are to repeat the story line of Jesus’ life. Not necessarily in the sense of being part of an oppressed people-group, being unfairly taxed, born in a manger, etc. But rather that of accepting suffering, dying with Christ, and being raised with Him. Now I don’t know about you, but those words and concepts have been pretty muddled to me. When I read and hear people say, “I have been crucified with Christ,” I sort of intellectually understand hear what they’re saying and I sorta don’t.

In reading this article and talking about it with my advisor, my eyes began to open a little wider; I began to process this more. Here’s a passage that I’ve been chewing on:

Paul uses several compound verbs that begin with the preposition syn (with): I suffer with Christ, am crucified with Christ, die with Christ, am buried with Christ, am raised and live with Christ, am carried off to heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father with Christ (Rom 6:3-11, Gal 2:20, 2 Cor 1:5; 4:7ff, Col 2:20, Eph 2:5-6).

This is one of Paul’s ways of underscoring the necessity of my personal participation in redemption. I must “put on Christ” (Gal 13:27), assimilate him, somehow experience with God’s grace and repeat in the pattern of my own life the principal events by which Christ has saved me, for by undergoing them he has transformed the basic human experiences into a new creation.

How do I experience these events? In him, by so entering into the mystery of his life that I can affirm with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) (p. 5).


OK. Here’s the part that really jumped out at me: “repeat in the pattern of my own life the principal events by which Christ has saved me.” Whoa. That’s just astounding to me. Incredibly astounding. I, in a sense, live the life of Christ because Christ lives in me. On one hand, part of me wants to simply say, “Of course!” while another part of me cries, “What? How can I even dare to aspire to live the life of Christ?” The answer is, I think, if I have died to myself in Christ, I have no other option.

Taft writes, “Henceforth, true worship pleasing to the Father is none other than the saving life, death and resurrection of Christ” (p. 4). How do we please God with our worship? We enter into the life of Christ: we die to self and rise to new life in Him.

Now here’s where it gets hairy for me. Paul talks in Colossians 1 about completing in his body what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of Christ’s body, which is the Church. OK. What is LACKING? How can ANYTHING be LACKING in Christ’s afflictions? Hey, I know it is divinely inspired, but my first reading of it just goes against my conceptions of the gospel. Jesus did it all, right? Died for the sins of the whole world! “It is finished.”

But… Jesus did raise up disciples and told them to preach the good news to the whole world. And the Holy Spirit did come at Pentecost and anoint them and Saul/Paul was knocked to the ground and blinded by the already ascended Christ.

So, maybe the entirety of salvation history wasn’t over yet.

Nothing more needed to be done to take away the sins of the world, but there was still kingdom work to be done. Who would it be done by?

By those who came into the Kingdom of God, responding to the grace and call of God.

By those who would live out the life of Jesus: to die to self with him and to rise to new life in him. In doing so, we can participate in the work of redemption. In fact, God invites into that miraculous work, which can become our greatest desire and joy.

I’m not talking about clergy here; I’m talking about the call of Christians.

So, what does that have to do with the sacraments or liturgy? Well, Taft writes that liturgy for Paul is “a life of self-giving, lived after the pattern of Christ” (p.5) That is the liturgy of life.

As for the liturgy of formal worship, it is to contribute to the liturgy of life. He says a liturgy is successful when it “builds up the Body of Christ into a spiritual temple and priesthood by forwarding the aim of Christian life: the love and service of God and neighbor; death to self in order to live for others as did Christ” (p. 11).

In other words, our liturgy and sacraments should be designed to draw us into the being of Christ, to lead us toward self-denial (wow, talk about an UN-popular concept!) and into living the life of Christ, our risen Lord.

If you’re still with me, I’d love to hear your comments.

God bless!



2 Comments:

Blogger Alex Smith said...

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21/11/07 3:57 AM  
OpenID lauraedits said...

I would like to know your perspective on the secession of the San Joaquin diocese from the Episcopal church. Isn't that your home diocese, and how do you feel about their refusal to ordain women priests? I don't have an agenda; just wondering.

17/12/07 12:22 PM  

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