Reformations and Liturgical “Magic”

There are two things I wanted to share from my devotional reading from this month. Both of them come from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. [If you purchase this from Amazon Smile and set up First Evangelical Lutheran Church as your preferred charity, we will get a small donation from Amazon for every purchase made.]

The first is from the monthly header article entitled “Marks of New Monasticism.” The second comes from the devotional on April 19 and is called “Liturgy is Magical, but Not Magic.”

April Marks of New Monasticism: “Submission to Christ’s Body, the Church”

Discontentment is a gift to the church. If you are one of those people who has the ability to see the things that are wrong in the church and in the world, you should thank God for that perception.. Not everyone has the eyes to see, or to notice, or to care. But we must also see that our discontentment is not a reason to disengage from the church but a reason to engage with it. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Our invitation is to “be the change” we want to see in the church. There are things worth protesting, but we also have to be people who “pro-testify,” proclaiming the kingdom that we’re for, not just the evils we’re against.

Jesus offered an alternative to Caesar’s empire not by mounting a rebellion but by teaching people that another way is possible. That way is summed up well in Jesus’ triumphal entry, the inaugural parade of a new kind of king for a new kind of kingdom. Church history is filled with holy dissenters, rabble-rousers, and prophets — disturbers of the peace who’ve helped to show us a better way. As some church historians have pointed out, every few hundred years the church gets cluttered by and infected with the materialism and militarism of the world around it. We begin to forget who we are. One bishop said, “And so every five hundred years or so the church needs a rummage sale,” to get rid of the clutter and to remember the true treasures of our faith.

Church history is filled with reformations and renewals. It was in the middle of Italy’s wealth and crusades that St. Francis heard God whisper, “Repair my church which is in ruins,” and he began to repair the ruins. At one point the pope had a vision that the church was beginning to crumble, but the corner was being held up by Francis and the little youth movement in Assisi. The call to repair the church is a call we continue to hear from God, and a movement we are invited to participate in. 

“Liturgy is Magical, but Not Magic”

As we pray to and worship the God of the universe, there is something that remains at some level incomprehensible. It gives us a taste of something dazzling and transcendent. Historians say the phrase hocus pocus originated from liturgical worship services, in which the priest held up the bread and proclaimed, Hoc est corpus Christi. There were lots of folks on the fringes of the church who looked through the doors and windows, marveling at the mystery and magic of the moment. Many of them were unfamiliar with liturgy and had little education, so all they picked up was hocus pocus, and it seemed quite magical.

Although the liturgy is not magic or illusion or sorcery, it captures our imagination — this idea that God came to earth and died and now lives in us. It is a mystery. So while there is nothing of a magical formula in the liturgy, there is plenty that points us toward a world beyond this one. Perhaps one of the sure signs that we have worshiped God is that we walk away saying, “I didn’t understand everything that happened there. It must be bigger than my comprehension.” Too much of our worship has boxed God in as if we were going to see a play on Broadway. But in worship we become a part of the play. Though we can’t understand it all, we can come onstage and participate in the divine drama.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.