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This morning I propose that the increasing fatalism within the Christian community, the resignation that the world is as it is, is a product of our thin worship. I’m suggesting there a connection between the evangelical yawn in the face of injustice and the hyper-spiritualized worship plaguing the Christian church. Alexander Schmemann, in his book For the Life of the World, says this about the absence of symbols in worship: “Before we gain the right to dispose of the old symbols we must understand that the real tragedy of Christianity is not compromise with the world and progressive materialism, but on the contrary, it’s spiritualization and transformation into religion. And religion—as we know already—has thus come to mean a world of pure spirituality, a concentration of attention on matters pertaining to the soul.” The hyper spirituality of Christianity has created a religious time and a secular time that run parallel. The Christian hope, in this context, is to escape this world and enter into eternity. In doing this, secular time becomes it’s own version of eternity—the “eternal recurrence of the same” as Nietzsche described it. This contributes to the contemporary Christian apathy toward injustice, toward sexual assault, toward racism. Loving God and loving our neighbor means pointing toward the time when this life will fade away, and we will all escape into an eternalized heaven.
For Schmemann, the liturgical life of the church was not the abolition of time, but the redemption of time. It is not an escape into another dimension, it is the recognition through the liturgy that God has broken into created time and is at work transforming it. Created time has been opened up to receive eternal time; temporal time has been opened up to the possibility of a new future. This is the power of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day; this is the significance of the 8th Day of creation in which resurrection takes all things into itself and transforms them. This is the time of the eucharist, the feast, the thanksgiving through which our Lord gives the gift of body and blood, bread and wine, a joyful feast that secular time cannot contain. It is forced to give way to hope, to faith, and to love.
Contemporary worship seems to be obsessed with novelty, with spectacle, with evoking emotion or fulfilling expectations. Schmemann writes, “Consciously or subconsciously Christians have accepted the whole ethos of our joyless business-minded culture. They believe that the only way to be taken seriously by the serious…is to be serious, and, therefore, to reduce to a symbolic minimum what in the past was so tremendously central in the life of the church – the joy of a feast.” (53) In becoming obsessed with time, we kill it, draining it of meaning, draining the symbols and liturgical action of it’s power. Through our obsession with pragmatism, with technical proficiency, with performance, we’ve lost the central action of Christian worship—the presence of Jesus Christ in word and sacrament. This presence is not a feeling, it is a promise kept through the act of re-membering. It is the power of memory connected with the symbols and liturgical movements that bring divine time and temporal time together.
It’s time to remember that the word ecclesia is a political word, and the leitourgia is the beneficial work for the people, our public act of service that gives allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ. This means our worship is, at its core, political, having everything to do with the transformation of this world into the coming Kingdom of God. So let’s stop saying our worship isn’t political, and let’s reclaim a deep worship that opens this world to the eschatological future of justice and peace.