You have heard that “Liturgy is the work of the people.” This is absolutely true. In this, “the work of the people” we elevate and offer our very lives to God, who is the ultimate giver of life. Liturgy is offered to God, but it is ultimately by the people and for the people. We do not satisfy an angry God through our liturgical offerings, but we offer angry people the comfort of knowing that God understands their anger and heartache. We do not flatter an insecure God with our praise, but we welcome insecure people to praise a God who loves them for whom they are, without the necessity of merit. We do not come to church to reduce our guilt and fear, but we come in thanksgiving to praise the one who has already taken away all our guilt and fear. We do not engage in liturgy because we have nothing better to do, but because there is no place we would rather be. From the cradle to the grave, and all points in between, in liturgy we offer our lives to God, under whose love and protection our very lives unfold.
I love the opportunity to welcome and celebrate new lives, ministries, and members through baptisms, receptions, and commissioning services. It is an honor to join people at their deathbeds and then to celebrate their life with honor and reverence at their funerals. It is a pleasure to unite lovers in marriage and to prepare young people for ministry through the commissioning service we have historically called “Confirmation.” I find indescribable joy in celebrating the Holy Eucharist and being the instrument through which Christ becomes flesh and blood for our salvation.
There is no transition in our lives that dwells outside of the reach of liturgy. This week is a perfect illustration of this. We started with the high drama of Palm Sunday when Jesus was welcomed as Messiah to the city of Jerusalem. From here we move to Maundy Thursday when we remember that intimate Passover meal Jesus had with his friends, instituting the sacrament of his presence among us and with us to the end of times. From here, we join the crowds asking for Jesus’ crucifixion and the interactive reading of the passion according to John will make us accomplices and collaborators. As painful as it is to say, “Crucify him!” these words remind us that the human heart is an idol-making factory (as Luther once said) and that our affections are fickle. There are times when we deny Jesus with our behaviors and our words. There are times when our apathy leads us into condoning silence. There are times when we chose the path of least resistance and tolerate racism and bigotry rather than challenging these behaviors. There are times when Jesus’ questioning eyes from the cross become very inconvenient and uncomfortable, and we turn our backs to avoid his desperate, pleading look. The good news of Good Friday is that Jesus begs the Father to forgive us for we know not what we are doing. “It is finished,” he declares, and sinners everywhere are cleansed from their sin by the sheer power of his cry of surrender.
We move into deep silence after his death. The altar has been stripped, the church campus remains quiet and deserted, and a prayer vigil at the Altar of Repose reminds us of the most desolate hours in human history when our Lord remained dead, the Virgin wept inconsolably, and the church mourned the loss of their friend and the loss of all the dreams they had for him. In those desolate hours, it seemed as though the Roman and Jewish authorities won the day. Evil reined and the wicked prospered. The words of Habakkuk 1:13b became fulfilled during those awful hours, “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” During those desolate hours, the entire creation screams, “Our God, our God, why have you forsaken us? Evil grows unchecked and there is no one to deliver us!”
But when the night was darkest, God disrupted the universe, and the status quo was forever altered. A bright, shinning light broke through the night and the Son of God rose victorious from the dead. During the Easter Vigil we celebrate this light that ends forever all the works of darkness. We will exclaim, “Halleluiah, Christ is Risen!” and to that shout of glory we will respond, “The Lord has Risen Indeed, Halleluiah!” We will then engage in four “New” or “First” actions: The “First Fire of Easter,” from which we will light the Paschal Candle, symbolizing that the Risen Christ is the light of the world. Then we will have a “Festival of Lessons and Collects,” also known as “The First Easter Liturgy of the Word.” During this liturgy we will hear the record of God’s saving grace for Israel and for us through readings from Genesis, Exodus, and Ezekiel. After this, we will celebrate the “First Liturgy of Baptism” and we will welcome two new members to our church. Finally, we will celebrate the “First Liturgy (Holy Eucharist) of Easter,” marking the beginning of Eastertide, a celebratory season that will last until Pentecost.
In the same week we will celebrate a moment of singular recognition and praise, the institution of one of our most important Sacraments, a betrayal of catastrophic proportions, the death of an innocent man, a period of deep darkness and silence, and the bright new day promised by God to the prophets. Celebration, remembrance, passion, death, and resurrection are the very stuff of which life is made and all these themes will be rehearsed and celebrated in front of God’s altar this week.
Liturgy is about life, death, and new birth. I cannot think of anything more important at this particular time in history. I pray you will come to celebrate your life, as we remember the single most Important events of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!”
Thanks be to God!
Blessings to all,