Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Why Liturgy?

Alison and I recently put together a Lenten supplement to our work last year during Advent. What follows here is the introduction I wrote for the resource, briefly outlining the place of worship in formation. You can view the rest of the resource here.

One way of approaching Christian anthropology is to say that humans are lovers. We are what is known as Homo Liturgicus; liturgical animals, who can‘t not worship. That before you say anything else about humans, whether it be as rational beings or believers, you must say that we are lovers. The centre of gravity of a human person is not the brain but the kardia – the heart. Although there is deep and complex relationship between our heart, mind, will, affections, and body, we are, when it comes down to it, made to love and be loved. 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
                                                                                    (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”
                                                                                    (Matthew 22:36-39)
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
                                                                                    (Augustine of Hippo)
It follows then that one of the major changes wrought on humans by the entry of sin, evil and death into God’s good world was on our heart. We become people who loved the wrong things. We love the creation rather than the creator. We make good things ultimate things, instead of receiving them as gifts of a kind and gracious Father. And instead of cherishing something for the thing itself, we use and abuse them, as we look to them to give something they weren’t created to provide. Our desires are disordered.

The work of the Holy Spirit amongst who have been united to Christ and justified by grace through faith is to reorder our desires so that we love in the right way. This is the work of sanctification, grounded in our justification that changes our hearts to love in a right way. One of the ways this happens is through worship – as we apprehend the generosity of our heavenly Father and the work of his Son, our affections change. As we hear the gospel again, we apprehend the beauty and majesty of Christ, and so worship him. And this happens with our bodies. You and I are embodied beings. We inhabit a body. As we stand, sit, or knell, as we sing, pray, or declare, as we partake in the sacraments, we worship with our bodies. And what we do with our bodies has the power to shape and drive who or what we love. That is to say the practices in which you habitually engage have such power to shape what you ultimately love. Our heart’s desires are shaped and moulded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate daily and weekly.

Worship plays a transformative role in our growth towards Christ likeness. And liturgies – the practices that we habitually partake in – when they are charged by God’s word and his Spirit, they reorder our hearts and minds to desire God and his kingdom. It expels the disordered loves that have occupied our heart, and brings forth a new affection. Worship forms who we love. And we are what we love.*

* James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom.