Easter Sunday is already a celebration for all Christians. At our church, we began a new liturgical tradition. Just before Lent, the kids in the congregation got to carry several banners with gold Alleluias written on them up to the chancel where they were safely stored in a box through the season of Lent. Easter morning the kids got to come up during the processional to take the banners out of the box and hang them up around the church. It’s a way of giving a visual to the widely known practice of bringing alleluia back into use at Easter.
The number of liturgical traditions is as numerous as there congregations that follow the liturgy. Processionals, incense, chanting, chasubles and the like are often considered “high church” because of the feel they have, the close association with the historic roots of the liturgy. However, they are by no means the only traditions you might have. Taking food collections during the service, choirs, imposition of ashes, candles, and all sorts of other practices are found in churches around the world.
These traditions and practices serve an important function. Liturgically savvy pastors and congregations look at what the liturgy is doing and look for new ways to drive the point home. I’ll say again, the liturgy is the best teaching tool the church has short of the Bible itself. Every Sunday, we gather together in worship and every Sunday God is giving us a new lesson in how to be His people. Many make the mistake of thinking the liturgy is just something we say when we are there for the service. Unfortunately, a liturgy that is merely said is a liturgy that is missing the mark and that usually isn’t the fault of the liturgy. The liturgy isn’t just said, it is done.
Now, don’t misunderstand. It’s not that saying the words of the liturgy is worthless, far from it. What I mean is that we need to see that the very words we speak are actually doing something. We confess the Creed and we make a public declaration of who the true God is. We need mercy, and so God gives us the words to speak to focus our attention on humbling ourselves before our Creator. We need encouragement and direction in our prayer life, so God gives us the opportunity to pray and a structure to guide us as we do it. We, as creatures, are created to praise our Creator, and so God gives us words such as alleluia that are reserved specifically for praising Him.
We learn a great deal if we think of the liturgy as a learning experience and not just as something that we need to mark off on our weekly checklist. Practices such as processionals, choirs, or alleluia banners are not meant to replace the various parts of the liturgy, because they all fill important functions right where they are. These practices are meant to give us new ways to consider what the liturgy is doing and, more importantly, that the liturgy is not just something we do for God, but that God is using the liturgy to do something to us.
There’s always the concern that some practice or other may not really work with a particular congregation. Not everyone responds to everything the same way. But, we must be careful not drop things just because they don’t make sense right away. God does many things in history that are clear and obvious. He also does many things that can only be understood with a concerted effort to delve into them. Both are beneficial, but they work in different ways. Some are for new Christians who, like toddlers, are just learning the basics of how to walk the Christian walk. Others are for those who already have the fundamentals but need something with a little more meat to help them continue to grow. The liturgy and the various practices associated with it are no different. Some will resonate with where you are at in your life of discipleship, some may not. Some will be meaningful one day, while others may connect better the next. They are all opportunities given to grow as God’s people as we learn from Him who we are and how we are to live in this world. For Lent, we put away our alleluias to help direct our attention on why our Savior came to die. Now that He has triumphed, we turn to our need to praise Him for all that He has done for us and we reflect on how it is only through His death and resurrection that we have life.
What sort of liturgical practices does your congregation have? What do you think they are trying to do?