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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Deep River Liturgy

We had a great Easter liturgy at Shepherd of the Hills. Photo: He is risen? Who saw that coming?
Easter worship is one of those time when the "deep river" liturgy can make all the difference in the world.

Deep River Liturgy  I've lived most of my life within a few miles of either the Mississippi or Missouri rivers. When you live on rivers, you soon realize that drowning is the least of your worries. (Lakes? Pretty much all you've got to worry about is drowning. It's easy living on lakes.) No, on a river you have to pay attention to the current. Even more importantly, where the water flows. In a big river, all the power of the river is at the bottom, in the deepest parts of the river. All the energy, all the power that drives a river is underneath the surface. The flotsam and jetsam that covers the top is nothing compared to the movement of the deep river. (In 2011, during the flooding of the Missouri River, trenches 45-50 feet deep were being dug by the deep river while trees and houses floated along the top.)

Like the power of a river, the power of liturgy lies way under its surface. The rituals, the colors, the sounds all move together so that the great power of a song, a hymn, a prayer, silence, the sermon, and communion can be experienced at visceral levels. The power of the liturgy is making sense of reality and the presence of God that often goes unnoticed during worship. When worship taps into the deep river power of God, you never know what you're going to get.

For example, on Good Friday I did a meditation on the Virgin Mary. I often preach on the Virgin on Good Friday because I cannot even fathom how a mother could sit at the foot of a son's cross and watch him die. That, more than the Virgin birth, is why Mary is the Mother of God. Anyhow, in order to start off the meditation I sang the Stabat Mater ("At the Cross, her Station Keeping") acapella. I started to choke up around verse 3. Then something amazing happened...

We have a woman who suffers terribly from Alzheimer's disease. I only met her recently, and she has never said a word to me. I always try to say hi, and give her a pat as her husband of 40 plus years rolls her by, but even looking her straight in the eye while delivering communion I cannot say she recognizes me. Or, for that matter, ever understood any word I've ever preached. She doesn't talk or communicate in any way except, so they say, with little squeaks and shouts, but in eight months I've never heard them. Until about 1/2-way through the Stabat Mater...sitting there with her daughter and granddaughter, she was vocally and visibly agitated. But then, so was I...

That's the deep power of the liturgy...somewhere deep inside her wasting body resided a mother who could not bear the pain Mary showed at the cross? And she cried out in protest! This is wrong! Mothers shouldn't have to watch their children die! We shouldn't have killed Jesus! And she got that not from anything we said or did, but from the music, the lights, the wind, the love of her husband, the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Worship, when it's at that deep level, cannot be controlled or contained, only lived, experienced, and maybe even endured. We never know who's walking into worship. They could be happy, sad, free, oppressed, dying, alive, on the road to ruin or the road to riches...The liturgy is for all to experience the presence of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the freedom of the resurrected Christ. There are no limits to that, there are no boundaries.

What is there? A power. A deep, abiding love that cries out from depths unplumbed; a love that endures forever.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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