The Church follows the Lord on a public year-long pilgrimage through the fasts and feasts of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity.
The Church is the body of Christ passing through the world. When people see us processing through our town centres they are able to acknowledge that it is our Christian witness that we are bringing them. Christian worship is a public demonstration that God brings all contraries together, and puts them face-to-face in reconciliation, and side-by-side in fellowship. The world that looks on can see this meeting and, if it wishes, recognise this reconciliation and decide that it wants to become part of it.
In some seasons the church is a large and noisy demonstration passing through a crowded town centre. During the feasts of the Church year we are celebrating and on carnival. The world will part on each side to let us through and some will join us as we go. We bless the world by greeting everyone as Christ’s future people. We greet them as examples of Christ’s body rejected, lost and forlorn, and we greet them as future members of his body redeemed, restored and made joyful.
At other times, during the fasts, we are on a demonstration of our public repentance and remorse. We are going out into neighbourhood and nation to bring them comfort and to repent for not having brought that comfort to them sooner. In our public processions we sing and bless. We sing psalms and hymns in alternation. We pray and intercede, kneeling together and keeping silence for long moments. So the form of our progress is simultaneously the way of the resurrection and glory, and the way of the cross and shame. As we go, the cross alternates with the glory, so at any one moment we are either repentant or joyful.
At other times (ordinary time) festival our public progress through the world is like a marathon. We walk rather than run. It is a long column of people that winds through the town, and across the countryside from town to town, from church to church.
The Christian people travel together as in a column. We are safe as long as we stay together and do not get split up. On each side of us, many other voices are attempting to draw us out of the column and away from the body of Christ. They tell us to sit down and rest. The aid they seem to offer is really enticements that will weaken us and leave us exposed and vulnerable.
All experienced Christians are marshals who help other Christians to keep up, stay on the track and not wander off into the confusing paths of the woods or wastelands on either side of us. Many Christians have gone wandering off there, some convinced that their orienteering skills are better than those who keep to the column.
Sunday by Sunday the Church reads the Scripture in the order set out in the Lectionary. Its purpose is that we hear together from each part of the bible, and hear them on the same day. This makes it possible for us to celebrate the main festivals, such as Christmas and Easter, at the same time as all other Christians around the world. We also hope is that, as far as is possible, we all read from all books of the bible in a year, or over a two year or three year period and so, not neglecting any part of it, we are discipled by the whole bible. We are servants of the Church year. None of us has authority to change this order, for the good orientation of the whole people depends on it.
The Church has passed down to us these sets of readings in this order in order to give us the narrative and logic of the gospel. If we point out the continuity of the readings from week to week, the whole congregation will become more aware of the narrative logic of the Church year and more aware of the challenges that come up in the course of the year. Then our thoughts as members of the congregation will become more focussed and better able to follow the connections made by the readings. So during Lent for example we can talk about the topic suggested by the readings for the Sundays in Lent. We do not need to introduce other topics, which could as well be covered at any other time of the year.
When we worship in Church we are not doing so in private. Christians are made conspicuous by church buildings, not concealed by them. The parish church is the centre from which our broadcast is transmitted. We have to make it known that we are worshipping in a visible public place, elevated and in full view, in the place where everyone can hear and see us.
Christ gathers his people and the Church is that gathering. Those who gather with us may not be the people we would have chosen, and they do not come together in the way we would have chosen. But they are Christ’s. He is their host and ours and this gathering is his act of hospitality. He brings them and us together into a public assembly, in which all voices are heard, and in worship all are in agreement and harmony. He is the sole source of our unity. The fact that these many contrary people, who may have nothing else in common, come together and stay together, and acknowledge one another in love and mutual service, is the witness that the church as a whole offers to the watching world.
The Church is the body of Christ. It is a body of people, and Christ is the head of this body. He is the leader of this body of men, and it is only this body because he is its leader. It is only the Church because it comes from him and without him it will stay together or remain Christian.
In order that the world can hear and see us from time to time the church must also come together in public in the streets outside the Church building. It must do so as a single body of worshippers, and so in the form of a procession. So at certain times of year we take the church service outside, and celebrate in the open air. Open air worship is an extension of Saturday evensong. We can bring some elements of Sunday morning worship forward, so that they begin commence on Saturday afternoon. Christians understand that the evening is the beginning of the following day. We do this on Christmas Eve, for example, and on the night of Holy Saturday that comes to its climax on Easter Sunday morning. To worship on Saturday afternoon or evening does not mean that we move or replace Sunday morning worship, but simply that we begin it early, so we can gather in the street when there are people about. We may do this on or around the festivals of the Church year.