April 9, 2012

Telling a Story Through Liturgy

On Good Friday I went to church for an hour and a half. Being a three-hour service I skipped a good portion of it, but as the church website explained, worshippers were welcome to come and go as their schedules permitted. I have to confess I left early -not so much because I had to be somewhere - but because it was a beautiful day and the beauty of the church did not quite match that of the April sky.

Holy Week is a commitment.

Three or four services in as many days sometimes is more than even those of us who have grown up in the church can commit to. Throughout my life I have washed feet at Maundy Thursday services, followed the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday afternoons, and have developed a deep love for the Easter Vigil liturgy.

Still, even I appreciated the note on the church website telling me what to expect at the Good Friday service, and giving me permission to step out a bit early or come a bit late. How many questions must others have? Why do they call it Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? What goes on at those services (and I don’t mean a list of the service music)? 

Holy Week is one grand theatrical ritual – a story told through liturgy. It is one of the more beautiful things that the church has created over the centuries - on par with Cathedrals that have taken decades to build - and the liturgy in which we participate every Sunday. We would do well to remember that we are acting out a story, we are participating in a beautiful and moving narrative. We must be careful to make sure we are not just telling the story to ourselves. 

Liturgy can appeal to a culture hungry for beauty, for things that last, and for a story that makes sense out of the swirling datum and disconnected experience that make up our digital lives. Religion, it could be said, is the acting out of a story we tell ourselves that explains this life to us and demonstrates our hope. Holy Week, and any of the gorgeous liturgies that Episcopalians participate in every Sunday, are not only a chance to remind ourselves about this story, but to tell it to others. 

As you consider this past Holy Week, and think about the Easter season, consider who you are telling to story to. Are you simply inviting people to the Maundy Thursday service or the Good Friday liturgy, and speaking in terms that might not mean much to people who haven’t already attended Episcopal Church services? Does your website really explain what visitors might encounter, and why they might want to participate in the retelling of this beautiful story, or is it simply speaking to the insiders?