LITURGICAL VEHICLES AND SACRAMENTAL SIGNPOSTS




The purpose of vehicles is transport and the function of signposts is to give direction. I see Christian worship as something that can provide the person seeking to worship with a means to convey her/his worship in the direction of God as she/he reaches out to God in praise and gratitude, penitence and remorse, bewilderment and pain, trust and rage, dependence and responsibility.

Vehicles carry goods. Liturgical vehicles carry a range of diverse goods, such as those "contents of the heart and mind" mentioned in the previous paragraph, and they carry people too. People are constantly being "lifted up" in the prayer, pain and praises conveyed to God. The roads by which liturgical vehicles travel are constructed out of materials that are contained in the ethical code and spiritual vision of the person reaching out to his or her God. I think of such ethical and spiritual values as: peace, forgiveness, justice, compassion, hope, accountability, freedom, dignity, worth, love, and co-operation. These values are all found in Christian worship.

The God who is worshipped is a hidden and mysterious God who does not leave herself/himself open to observation. Such a God, during this earthly stage of our human journey, is strictly speaking unknowable. We have beliefs about what such a God might be like, but no knowledge of God, nor proof that our beliefs are correct. Likewise such a God's existence is unproven; we may believe that there might be a God or we may not do so. For many people religion is primarily about how a person seeks to live out and shape their life; to them the theoretical side of religion is far less important. The history of many of humanity's religions is in part a record of an endless series of debates and disputes between people with conflicting ideas and beliefs. Sometimes such discussion can lead to new and creative insights and the development of a deeper religious vision. On the other hand, sometimes, it reasonably can be seen to have been a waste of precious time and energy and an escape from the real issues of the day that needed to be engaged in and acted upon.

Jesus of Nazareth lived in a very different world from ours today. He never drove a car, he never travelled by aeroplane, he did not hold a passport, he did not have a radio or TV or a mobile phone or a computer or a Visa card or life insurance. Yet despite all the differences, he shares some fundamental values with those who in one way or another sense that they share some common ground with him. His religion was that of ancient Israel, and in Temple or synagogue, he found vehicles to use to convey his worship to Israel's God. These vehicles have both similarities and dissimilarities with those used in Christian worship, but what they transport is much the same: praise and gratitude, penitence and remorse, bewilderment and pain, trust and rage, dependence and responsibility. Many of the ethical and spiritual values of ancient Israel's faith are found in the Christian way of life too: peace, forgiveness, justice, compassion, hope, accountability, freedom, dignity, worth, love, and co-operation. Jesus, it seems to me, was a self-effacing person who wanted to point people to the mystery of a God of immense tenderness, understanding and concern. Such a remarkable member of the ancient community of Israel needs to have his place re-discovered within the Christian community which would not have come into existence had it not been for him. If in some highly mysterious way our "acts of continuing to remember him" serve as liturgical vehicles and sacramental signposts, it may well be because of that self-effacing quality which characterised his life. He sought to encourage others to explore the depths of life and to reach out to that infinite mystery we call "God". Might he not say to us today: "be people who are unafraid to reason and unashamed to adore" (Mark Oakley in his book 'The Collage of God' p.56) and "go on reaching out to God whether in pain or praise, in gratitude or penitence, in rage or trust, in bewilderment or confidence, in love or in suffering, in hope or in despair."

For more articles