1. Christian worship is public
2. Christian worship is the service of God to us
3. The Son makes the good confession
4. Rival liturgies
5. The Church names the gods
6. Being made persons in time
What can I do for a Practical theology seminar? Perhaps the best thing is to give you a straight account of the Christian calling and life. This is life together, this is most obvious when Christians are gathered together in worship. So I am going to talk about Christian worship as the demonstration of what Christian life is. I want to persuade you that Christian worship is an act of God, and that God involves us in this act of his, so we are the act in which God makes himself known here in the world. This means a number of things – that the Church is the big fact with which God confronts the world, and that the distinctiveness of the Church that is the single contribution to the world that the Church can make. Just by being different from the world, the Church demonstrates that the world is not yet everything it claims to be. This must also mean that God is also competent to make the Church mean what God says is means, so the shortcomings of the Church don’t ultimately get in God’s, or the world’s, way. Then two other things. One is that Christian worship is a public and political act. The other is that the Church service is making its participants holy. Or to say the same thing with a more ontological twist, the Church service is bringing its participants into existence. We exist only because we, or someone else on our behalf, worships God on earth.
1. Christian worship is public
I have turned ethnographer. I been to explore one of the many different communities in the London borough of Hackney. Though the community I have chosen to present to you seemed to be made of several different groups, it curiously insists that all its members make up one single community, most clearly seen on Sundays. The particular manifestation of this community that I have been examining refer to itself as ‘St Mary’s, Stoke Newington’. On Sunday in the morning the community appears. Its leading members are dressed in white. The first holds above him a large cross, the second and third carry large candles, a fourth carries a large book and is followed by one or two hundred people. At intervals the book is opened and read from, and when this happens the whole assembly bursts into acclamations and song. What do these people themselves think they are doing? How does this event make them the particular community they are?
To get to grips with this community I had to take some decisions. My first was to accept that this community understands itself to be meeting in public. It believes that the entire surrounding community is present, watching and listening to them. The walls of their building are transparent, as it were, so the whole event is visible to the outside world, which makes it like a large demo in a busy concourse or city square.
Secondly I decided that the community thinks what it hears and what it says. The readings, and the songs that respond to them, really tell us what these people understand about themselves. Since the community is only fully visible for an hour and a half, being sociologists of this community is like being sport commentators at a match. We have to provide a running commentary as the Church service takes place before our eyes. This means that we have to listen attend to the actual words and actions of the Christians assembled in worship, and from them set out the narrative of the service. They refer themselves to the words of the book – Scripture – which they listen and repeat in song. This means that the narrative of the Church service is the narrative of Jesus Christ that spells itself out through these readings. In short, Christ is what is going on in the Church service, and these people who hear and sing Scripture are our key to Christ. The unity of Christ and these people is what is being established here. In its worship this community declares that God intends to make us participants in some of his action for the world. So the Church service is the service of God, and remains his service, and yet it also becomes ours. Our action is through and through God’s action, and yet it will become really ours, our action with God. As the Christians see it, their worship is the speech of God that creates their community and their life. This worship creates plurality, it sets all things in motion, and distinguishes every thing from every other thing. God gives his speech to the world in the form of the Church: the Church is the action of God in the world. It witnesses to God who makes good what we start but cannot finish, and undoes what we have done falsely. The worship is God’s own compassionate diagnosis of the world, and the Church tells the world what it does Church interprets the world to itself and. In worshipping God, the Church deconstructs what the world does. The Church service is mocking what the pagans do. Finally, the event of the Church service reverberate in the activities of Christian through the week, so that every Christian is a little Church service continuing wherever each Christian is. These are some of the assumptions I am working on in what follows. As we go along you will be able to identify others. Our job is to provide a commentary on what this assembly is doing. Here are some particular moments of the Church service I want to look at:
Entry – greeting – prayer of humble access – Gloria – reading – psalm – reading – sermon – intercessions – confession – forgiveness & peace.