Every year, in spring, a youth-oriented mission organization hosts training events in our church. For a week, they train the young adults who will serve as leaders for the high school youth who will be traveling all over the country learning what it means to serve in mission as followers of Jesus. They sleep in our building, take over all of our classrooms, and sit in corners studying. They have animated one to one conversations in the chapel.
And they come to worship on Sunday. At our 8:45 traditional service.
Now I am not sure about this, but I suspect that most of the young people who come to our church for training are not Lutheran. I suspect that most of them come from somewhat less liturgical traditions than our own. And our 8:45 traditional service does follow the Lutheran liturgy. We have chanting. We sing the Kyrie and the Sanctus. We kneel for prayer. We have communion every Sunday. We don't offer Sunday School during this service, and it is fair to admit that the participants (with a couple of exceptions) skew toward the older members of the congregation.
So every year we have this invasion of twenty-two and twenty-three year olds at this early service where there are a lot of retired people. And I will admit that, for me, at least, it suddenly makes liturgy seem a lot different.
Don't get me wrong: I love liturgy: the chanting, the prayers, the symbols, the flow of it all. However, I have also enjoyed a good charismatic prayer service on occasion. They each have their own integrity.
So this year, the young people worshipped with us again. During the communion, we offer both individual cups and the common cup. People were beginning to be ushered forward. After one young man received the bread, I heard him say to the woman next to me (serving wine), "I want the cup. I want the whole experience."
The Whole Experience. Have you ever thought of liturgical worship in this way?
I can't read this young man's mind, of course, but I considered that he was basking in what was, to him, a strange and mysterious form of worship. But instead of being suspicious and thinking, "These people, with their written prayers and chants and vestments, can't be real Christians," he was open to the Holy Spirit teaching him what it might be about. He was sure that something or other was there for him, in the words, the gestures, the sounds, the cup.
It made me think that perhaps the problem of liturgy is that we take it for granted. For those of us who know it, there are comforting words we know by heart. We have heard so often that liturgy is a barrier to people that we have (perhaps) come to be a little sensitive and defensive about it. We may even be so comfortable that we don't realize that there are depths here that we have never plumbed, things that we have not yet learned, much less learned to share. And it certainly is true that we need to re-interpret and re-imagine liturgy for every age and era where we live. There are new tunes, new rhythms, to which we will set the ancient story. But the strangeness and mystery of liturgy can be a gift, not a barrier, if we welcome the stranger, if we have eyes to see, if we too are open to The Whole Experience.