Advent: What I've Learned from Anglicans and Catholics Part II

I once helped organize a liturgical service that met four nights a week over the course of nine months. It was during my second year at Rosedale Bible College, a small Anabaptist college a half hour west of Columbus, Ohio. A few of us, inspired by a beloved professor's love for ancient rhythms, put together a simple service that looked something like the following (If you want you can just scan until you hit the next line of asterisks)

*********************************************

-Call To Worship: Usually a Psalm such as 122.

-Hymn

-Confession of sin: This was a group reading in which we remembered that we are here not because of but in spite of who we had been even that day.

-Assurance of Forgiveness: While we didn't  believe confession and forgiveness requires an intermediary, it is comforting to hear someone read a passage to you reminding you that in spite of who we are and what we've done we are forgiven, loved, and being changed.

-Hymn

Old Testament Reading

-Hymn

New Testament Reading: The OT and NT verses often (not always) related directly to each other in theme and content.

Responsive Reading: A paragraph or two taken from someone like Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Brennan Manning, or the like. These readings usually reflected something in the theme of scripture.

-Ten Minutes of Silence

-Group recitation of The Lord's Prayer.

-Hymn: Doxology.

-Benediction

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.

**********************************************

We had a three man shift, rotating responsibilities, but as long as three people were there we held the service. Average attendance was 6-12, usually just enough to make that little balcony feel occupied. We primarily used hymns, largely because the workload of coming up with a prepared worship leader four evenings a week was a bit much. People were free to come and go as they pleased, even if they could only stay for a few moments. The mood was set by the presence of a row of shoes at the bottom of the steps leading to the balcony. In a college setting (in any setting), often what is needed isn't necessarily more noise and excitement, but silence, reflection, and carefully chosen words.

I cannot begin to express to you the profundity of those little services. It carried a sure silent strength, creating a space for God to speak in a way that I have rarely experienced on such a regular basis. In fact it marks the only time that I can reflect and claim that I audibly heard the voice of God. The group of us were gathered for probably the twelfth or so time, wondering if this little experiment would work out. That evening, as I was reading the call to worship, a thunderstorm was rolling through central Ohio. I wish I could remember the Psalm we had used that day, it was something like the language of Psalm 18:13 that speaks of God's voice as thunder. Precisely as I finished the line "The Lord's voice is like thunder" the building was shook by the loudest strike I had heard in my life up till that point. No one said a word, no one needed to. We all understood.

While there were powerful thunderous moments and a lot of tears by the leaders and participants, the changing influence of the liturgy was the repetition. As we daily repeated words of God's faithfulness and reflected on whether or not they had been true that day, or week, as we sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," we were reminded of a hundred other days when those words rolled off our tongues, some passionless, some life altering, but rarely without God's presence. In a society that values constant originality and change, we were beginning to internalize the truth that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

This last Sunday I used the recommended scriptures and prayers from the Catholic Lectionary and again felt the power of thoughtful preparation, words from God melding with our words of response. Not that I invested a huge amount of time in this service, but it made other services I had put together seem thoughtless in comparison. I feel like I'm rediscovering something I had long forgot I lost.

So here's to a new tagline and a renewed sense of liturgy.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness protect you through the storm;  may he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.