The Tides of Liturgical Life

I had been recently reading about Saltstraumen, a place in Norway that has a narrow strait that also happens to have the strongest tidal currents in the world.  This means it also has the dubious honor of also having the most destructive maelstroms in the world.

The amount of water that flows through the strait every day is hard to really imagine.  There are periods of calm when the strait can be navigated, but care must still be taken because any wandering off course can lead to very sudden and unforeseen disaster.  I don’t want to push too much meaning on images like this, but the whole scene reminded me of the coming and going of liturgical life. 

The life of the church is one marked by regular and continuous activity, coming in and going out.  This repetition is perfectly normal and necessary.  There can be no going out without first coming in and after being out for a time, one must come in.

In this case, I’m speaking specifically of the life of the church in worship.  That “coming in” is the vital activity whereby we are reaffirmed as the people of God.  We enter into God’s presence.  All of the dirt of daily, sinful life is washed away once more. We cherish this time we spend with our Lord, for we cannot live without it.

Following this time in God’s presence, we go out. But this is not a casual departure, as if our job was done. Simeon’s words, recounted in the Nunc Dimittis following the Lord’s Supper, indicate activity. Simeon is not so much saying, “Let me go,” as he is saying, “Let me go to work.”. The Latin name of the text, drawn from his words in the Gospel, is better translated as “Now you dismiss.” This gives more the impression of a king or general who has given orders to a subordinate and now sends him to carry them out.

Our time with God is precious and we would be lost without it. But, there are many in the world who do not know God. We go out to the world, carrying the knowledge of salvation with us. We don’t always want to go, but the need is great and there is work to be done.

We go out with the message that we have seen the Savior, but then, regular as clockwork, we come back. We come back, having been out doing the Lord’s work. We come back to the words of the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!'” We go back to where we started, back to where we are made God’s people. We hear the message again. We see our Savior again and the whole process starts over.

In Saltstraumen, the turbulent maelstroms come in the crossing as the tide comes in or goes out. For us, the turbulence and danger comes from trying to stay too long on one side or the other. Both activities are necessary, both for the sake of creation around us and for our own lives as well. We need to be in God’s presence to hear the message of salvation, to be renewed and restored by Him. We also need to take the message out so that it gets where it needs to go. This is why we are called, but then we are sent. Without this coming in and going out, God’s message of grace never makes it to the world that still languishes in darkness. This is the life of God’s people, flowing as regular as the tides.

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