The two go hand in hand: The order places the necessary structure around which I can rest in the holy moment. Without the structure the event takes on too much of a subjective feel which is self-serving more than, I believe, it is serving God. And worship is not about us. It is about God, first and foremost. We gather to praise God, not meet our needs to feel good.
So, I am thankful for the order. Nevertheless, there’s another side on the mountain top down which I can slide.
In a liturgical church, sometimes the rules of the ritual get in the way. In the way of being truly present, that is.
If you’re anything like me, you are easily distracted. I am often pulled away from being grounded in the moment by a compulsion towards following the ‘order’ of the ritual, more concerned by keeping order than by entering the profound meanings of the ritual.
Underlying this distraction is a hyper self-consciousness. A revved up performance mind-set can sometimes lead me astray from the beauty of the sacrament. And I rush through it. Self-consciousness is the evil twin of subjective, feel good, entertainment-style worship, is it not?
So how does the worship leader guide the gathering so as not to make it about the pastor or priest on the one hand; and, on the other, not be overly obsessive about the proper form this worship embodies? How can form follow function in worship and at the same time reflect an order that fits together and effectively conveys reverent meaning about the God we worship?
I have come to learn in my experience presiding over sacramental practices for over fifteen years that the priest embodies the Gospel by our leadership. Denying this profound truth can easily result in a mechanical, robotic style of sacramental leadership. That we, as pastors, are the vessel through which the Gospel message is conveyed by our every word and deed in worship leadership calls upon us to practice a mature self-awareness and humility in the presence of God. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is not only out there but also within us (Luke 17:20-21); Paul greeted the saints and addressed believers “in Christ” (Romans 6:11, 23, 8:2, 12:5, 15:17, 16:3, 9, 10; 1 Cor 1:4, 30 4:15, 15:18, 15:31, 16:24; 2 Cor 1:21, 2:14, 17, 5:17, 12:2, 19; Galatians 1:22, 3:26, 5:6; Ephesians 1:11, 2:10, 13; Philippians 2:1, 3:3, 4:7; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thess 2:14; 2 Thess 1:12; 1 Tim 1:14, 16; 2 Tim 3:12; Philemon 1:8, 23). We have the “mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:5). We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.
We are met with a great challenge to be present to ourselves, true to ourselves and willing to put all of ourselves on the line before God at the Table. Sacramental leadership calls us to be vulnerable to ourselves. Would this mean confessing our hidden most selves verbally to all the assembly prior to Communion? I’m not sure about that; but, essentially, this inner stance is crucial — to be willing to expose my truth to myself, before God and hopefully, at some point, to another human being.
This can be a frightening proposition and cause of great anxiety. For how often in our daily lives are we truly ‘present’ — present to ourselves, present to one another, even present to God who is omnipresent? One psychologist I heard said that well over 80% of our day is spent day-dreaming. In other words, most of our waking hours are spent continually distracted and ‘blind’ to seeing the reality right before us. Is this a coping mechanism for a deep hurt within us? Perhaps. Whatever the cause, our dis-ease with being truly present with another and from appreciating fully each and every moment of our lives suggests that the Eucharist is a profound gift for healing not only in the lives of all who participate in the Sacrament but to the priest as well.
For what is the Sacrament other than the true, real presence of Christ? It is the outer sign of an inner truth. It is the bread and wine and Word to convey Presence — the presence of God in all and through all.
Celebrating the Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday is a wonderful act of worship during a holy time in the life of the church. We follow Christ through his last days. We are present to those holy moments as Jesus shares a last, intimate, meal with his friends. He washes their feet as a sign of loving service and servant leadership.
I pray that, as priests and pastors, we can truly be present to each moment of worship as we bring ourselves to feet of Christ, and receive his loving grace and embrace.