When someone says they go to Sunday worship because their family always has, that’s not a good enough reason. When someone tells me they pass the peace every Sunday because it’s a tradition they think is worth preserving, that’s not a good enough reason. When we are attending a Sunday (or other day) worship gathering for reasons like: I know I should or It’s a slippery slope when you stop going to church or this is an ancient tradition and we should maintain it...it’s no wonder people will also admit to having a list of things they might be doing with that time instead running in their heads. In a busy world like ours, these are no longer good enough reasons to do something.
So then we have people saying things like “I stopped going because I wasn’t being fed.” To which some might reply “Church is like a hospital, if you’re healthy maybe it’s not about you getting what you need but about who you can be to others in need.” ...for a couple of hours one day a week...Are we surprised when people stop attending church? Or when they come sheepishly once a month hoping that no one notices or shames them for the other three? There just aren’t good enough reasons.
If you know me, you know that reinterpreted liturgies are sort of my favorite playground. I’ve worked with a number of churches who do cool liturgies because they are works of art. Like the book of common prayer is a classic and we are Andy Warhol making the classic into something new and relevant and changing the meaning ever so slightly to reflect our current world. And we get so excited about these liturgies that it becomes an art form - always trying to be newer, fresher, seamless, creative, different, innovative. Hip.
At one point, I was running liturgy at a church for whom their creative liturgy was their identity. A friend of mine suggest we ask: “What does the congregation need in this season?” Wait. What? Don’t you mean “What would be cool and attractive and stretch the bounds of liturgy?” No. He asked “What does the congregation need?”
So I stopped and began to breathe deeper than I had since I started working there. And instantly I heard that still soft voice that had been trying to break through the clatter of the church-semi-hipster scene for months: Simplicity. I heard the voice of God saying “They need simplicity.” And I said: “Fuck. They are not going to like this.” (And then, of course, I said “Sorry for cussing in response to you speaking to me, God...but...really...sigh.”)
So, reluctantly faithful as I most often am, I packed up all the bells and whistles. We took out all the color. We recovered all the floor pillows in muslin. We made a very simple labyrinth in tan and brown with only coastal rocks (taken illegally from Golden Gardens...but returned when we were done...and “the earth and everything in it belongs to Yahweh” [ps 24.1] right?) to decorate it. I made plans for us to sing the same 10 songs over the six weeks of Lent and prepared for the shit storm. And it came.
Few people actually talked to me about it. But you can believe I heard it from others in whom the frustrated confided: “Rebecca just isn’t creative.” “Rebecca doesn’t get what we’re about.” “Rebecca doesn’t have passion or vision for this.” “Rebecca’s phoning it in.” And: “Rebecca’s just not the person for this job.”
Then came time to plan our Easter service. I needed to knock their socks off. And luckily, the voice of God was with me on this one. I felt God saying: for six weeks we were in the desert, depriving people of sensuality: When I rise, let’s make it explode. And we did. Literally. We had confetti pouring from the sky. We had an original song played with a full band in one of those moments where melody saturates the air. We had party poppers. We did communion with champagne and cake! Yes cake. I think God was okay with cake. If we disagree, let’s just add that to the long list of conversation topics when we fully arrive in God’s presence.
And then people got it. We needed the desert before the party. God needed to teach us the quiet and longing that leads to resurrection before we had the ecstasy of resurrection. And we needed this because it’s how we live. We were rehearsing together those seasons of want and of fulfillment. We were rehearsing together that sometimes God is hidden behind muslin cushion covers. We were rehearsing that sometimes after too long of a quiet God in muted colors, God bursts forth like confetti, party poppers, and cake! It was a rich time. And I did get some apologies for all the complaining behind my back.
We got to that great moment - albeit through some struggle - not by doing liturgy because we think it’s a good thing to do. We got there not by doing liturgy to avoid a slippery slope we’ve been warned of. We got there not by doing liturgy because there is a tradition to preserve. We got there not by doing the coolest, edgiest, most creative thing that will wow and stun spiritually leaning hipsters. We got there because we let go of all that stuff to ask the question: “What do we need?” In order to live lives in the way of Jesus and to communally process our experience of life with God, “What do we need?”
And that is what liturgy needs to be about. And that is why I enjoy it. I like making cool, pretty things or experience for people. But I wouldn’t give my life to that. What I would give my life to is curating spaces where Yahweh can give us what we need in order to live radically together after the way of Jesus. That is the only good enough reason. At least for me.