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April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday Meditation: The Gift of Liturgy Is the Gift of Time

Among the notable gifts of the liturgical churches to Christianity at large -- a sense of structure and order, an attraction to beauty, and so on -- perhaps none is as pertinent to this cultural moment as the ability of good liturgy to arrest time. In our twitch-and-post milieu, the liturgical tradition demands that we slow down and take each part as it comes, not rushing forward as we tend to do.

Our common compunction is to be centered on the Next Thing Coming, whatever that be, and this is a real sickness, if not a full-blown addiction. Of course, the stinging irony is that we cannot even focus on the Next Thing Coming anymore, because there are millions of such Things traveling towards us at light speed. (Just by way of example, in my part of the world it's now mid-morning, and one of the Twitterers I follow who lives on the West Coast has just trumpeted his eighth tweet of the day.) How can anyone keep up?

Ah, but sitting in the midst of tonight's service, we will be forced to confront our need to move things along. Tomorrow Jesus is crucified; tonight, we feast with him, learn from him, have our feet washed by him. We will defy the impelling force of momentum even as we tick off the minutes to the Garden and further inevitability. We will go into that upper room and stay there a good while, as long as we can.

The Gospel of John expends considerable energy at this point of its narrative. Jesus begins by washing his disciples' feet, and from there it just goes on and on. Love one another as I have loved you ... I am the way, and the truth, and the life ... If you love me, you will keep my commandments ... Because I live, you will also live ... I am the true vine ... The world hated me before it hated you ... If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you ... Again a little while, and you will see me. It's as though a few brief hours explodes into an immeasurable, luxurious expanse of time -- chronos giving way to kairos -- until betrayal and arrest are past imminence and Jesus is in the hands of those who will do him in.

Liturgy makes us pause -- pause in the contemplation of those things we would not otherwise choose to stop and witness. Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

josephmcbee said...

For a season, my Family and I attended an Anglican Church where one of my friends is a priest. Each Sunday as we went forward to receive the bread and the wine I was struck by the pace of it; the worshipful, quiet tempo that made everything else in my heart and mind slow so that Christ came into greater clarity in my vision.

I miss that.

I think all of us non-liturgical Christians out here would do well to embrace more things that quiet our hearts and minds like that.