Liturgy – What is it good for?

It’s my time to add to the blog and I’m going to run the risk of a personal rant on Worship. It’s a theme that continues to stir my soul, which was stirred once again when I read simple comment made by Annie Dillard [in Marva Dawn’s book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down]: “Since “we” have been doing this for 2,000 years, why can we not do it as well as a high school drama club cast can do after six weeks of rehearsing a play? Not that worship is nothing but rehearsable performance and not that a high school play is worship – though drama and liturgy do have some common roots. But people who attend services of prayer and praise, song and action, preaching and the sacraments, often have to endure mumbling and stumbling of offputting sorts. This is not how God is to be praised, and this is not what worshippers will put up with for indefinite periods of time.” Strong stuff! And yet, I keep finding myself asking the Annie Dillard question as I move through so many worship services.

Not long ago, with a group of friends, the conversation turned to worship and I mentioned my growing affinity for the deep symbols and rich voice of liturgy. The response was swift and certain, to the effect that liturgy is dry, sterile, dead, and that nothing good could come of it. Later, another friend who overheard the response sought to console me. It should be noted that this man is enrolled as a doctoral candidate in “liturgical studies.”

“Let me suggest what good comes from liturgy” he said. And then he tossed out a fascinating thought. His thesis went like this: the use of Sunday School as the primary educational vehicle of the Church is a relatively new phenomenon – dating to the early 1900’s. Up to that time, the primary means by which people learned core spiritual disciplines: the language of prayer, the theology of creed, the reading of Scripture, the spiritual journey from confession to absolution, the expression of praise … all of this and more was cultivated through Worship and the liturgy of Worship.

In recent years, it appears that the influence of Sunday School as an educational experience has diminished. Which makes me wonder what is left to be learned in our services of Worship? It’s a troubling question, but one that needs to be addressed. If a worship service was to be the only “school” for the learning of spiritual discipline for a new believer what have they learned of prayer, of belief, of the word and of the profound drama of faith that defines their life in Christ?