Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"Free Communion": Sacraments and the Secular

I'd venture a guess that most people who would even bother glancing at this site know that the word liturgy (from the Greek leitourgia, meaning "public service") is often translated "the work of the people." So to name a collective of Christian artists, musicians and filmmakers who design provocative and compelling resources for use in Christian worship "The Work Of The People" strikes me as both clever and appropriate - maybe even a little ironic in a postmodern sort of way, considering that their hip, audio-visually oriented work is clearly involved in reimagining what liturgy might mean in a postmodern world. It's not just old-school smells and bells for these cats, although I'm sure they wouldn't at all object to a little sandalwood incense.

Anyway, this video was brought to my attention by Doug Gay, our lecturer in practical theology at my university (who himself co-wrote an interesting little book called Alternative Worship, which is worth a look). The soundtrack is "To Rescue Me," by seminal Christian alternative band The Choir. Derri Daugherty, whose voice you hear, and whose chorus-y guitar sounds comprise the track, engineered and co-produced a record I had the, um, privilege of making long ago (in a past life, one might even say).

But song aside, I wonder what others think about the video. Take 3 1/2 minutes and watch it, mull it over, let us know what you think. By way of a description, it's a simple concept, really: a guy goes out to various "secular" locations (a mall food court, a busy intersection, a sidewalk, a Burger King parking lot), sets up a card table with a chalice full of grape juice (appears to be of the unfermented variety) and a loaf of bread, puts out a sign reading simply "Communion"...and then he just sits there and waits. People come and go, a few pause curiously before going on their way, one finally partakes.

We could, and perhaps should, get into a deep discussion about the idea and the implications of taking the Eucharist to people on the streets in this way; whether the Eucharist outwith the Church in this fashion is a good or a dangerous idea; about who is and is not eligible to receive, or indeed administer, the Eucharist, which picks up a conversation that has been ongoing here and there on this blog for many weeks; and it begs the question, perhaps, of whether the gesture depicted should be considered Eucharist or Communion at all, at least in any proper sense.

What strikes me as perhaps most compelling about this video is the way the guy just...waits - does nothing and waits for someone to come and commune with him. Maybe this resonates with me because of my recent reading of Jean-Yves Lacoste's phenomenological study of liturgy, Experience and the Absolute (Fordham UP, 2004), which in part understands the liturgy in terms of waiting, according to the logic of the vigil. Some quotes from Lacoste:

"...liturgy is not a work (œuvre): it produces nothing that could possibly be handled, admired, sold, or given. It is utterly foreign to the logic of action." (p. 78)

"Liturgy is the absence of work (œuvre)." (p. 79)

"...the nonutility of praise must not be interpreted uselessness but as a beyond-to-utility." (p. 80)

"...the kairos of liturgy comes, as night follows day, after we have completed our duties...We pray between acts. But the vigil prolongs this entr'acte. The day, which will return us to the care of things secular, is still far off. We do not have to account for the time we gain to devote to praise. And yet this very much amounts to saying that liturgy appears here as a surplus...Liturgy is not, in the strict sense, necessary." (p. 81)

"Liturgy is inoperativity (désœuvrement)...Because it concerns itself with a presence while hoping for a beyond-to-presence, and because it hopes as one hopes for a gift rather than for the payment of a debt, its expectation must reckon with the possibility of perpetual frustration...Thus, for consciousness, if we must speak of it, patience is a major liturgical virtue. The patient consciousness knows that its attentiveness and expectation give it no hold over God. It is a confession of powerlessness." (p. 91)

Tom Petty once sang "The waiting is the hardest part." I think he was probably right, and no waiting is harder than waiting on the Absolute, the wholly Other, that which we call in the absence of a better name "God." But if we believe that God really "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14)...if we believe in a Jesus who identifies himself explicitly with those who appear in and to the world as "the least of these," toward whom our service or our denial is commensurate with service to or denial of Jesus himself...if, following Jewish thinkers like Buber and Levinas and Christian thinkers like Bonhoeffer and Zizioulas, we believe that our personhood, our very Being, is constituted in our encounter with the face of the not the waiting and the eventual-though-fleeting Communion depicted in this video as authentic an expression as any?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Random Monday Thoughts on Worship and Eucharist

Greetings. I just noticed that no one has made a post here in a while, so I thought I'd see if I could get things going again. I have nothing profound to offer today, but perhaps some foundational stuff is worth reviewing from time to time, eh? First, I've been going through Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline" with my folks in our Wedesday night study time and finally came to the chapter on worship. One of the discussion questions we came to was "How important do you think forms and rituals are in the practice of worship?” It was interesting, although I guess I should have anticipated it, that my very traditional Nazarene crowd really had no answer to this question. They had never considered forms or rituals as having any value in a discussion on worship. So, I went back in history a bit and we had a wonderful discussion about many issues that pertain to both ritual and form and the part they play in worship. We talked about the shape of worship in the early Church, about the Word and Table form that was predominant for centuries. We talked about the differences between “forms” in worship and “styles”, and how style has won the day in our “worship wars” of the last 10 years. We talked about our revivalistic heritage and actually wrote out, on our white board, the “forms” of worship in a typical revival service. At that point, my basic question to them, having written out a basic revival service side by side with a traditional, historical worship service, said “What’s the difference?” One of our younger ladies, who isn’t even Nazarene (maybe that’s why she knew the answer) said “One is intended to make converts and the other is intended to shape disciples.” HMMMMM. You are correct madam! Then I asked, “Now, let’s take a look at our question for tonight one more time.” Looking at it from this perspective, the question about the importance of forms and rituals in worship took on a whole new luster. People who had grown up in the revivalistic services of the Church of the Nazarene all of a sudden were coming to grips with why Christian maturity is such an issue in our Church, and how a difference shape and form of worship could be helpful in developing that, even VITAL in its development. John Wesley would have been so proud! What do you all think? How would you answer the question “How important do you think forms and rituals are in the practice of worship?”
My second random thought of the day comes out of the beginnings of my preparation for my sermon this coming Sunday. I am finishing up a series on the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation this week, so I have arrived at Laodicea. Most of us have heard sermons about how we ought to be more hot (passionate, emotional) and less luke-warm (rational, intellectual, sacramental?) in our Christian lives, but have we ever heard a sermon that deals with where that image comes from or how it ties in to the other key image in the letter to Laodicea? How many of us have seen evangelistic tools using the picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking and have been encouraged to use it as a visual aid in talking to our unsaved friends? Very quick summary of this passage reveals to us that the reference to the “lukewarm” nature of the congregation is a reference that they would immediately have understood. They would have known that John was referring to their water-source issues, that the ultimate point was that they were to far from the source of spiritual strength, stability and passion (Jesus) and the second image (Jesus standing at the door) would have been MOST important to them given this first image and its obvious implication. So, the interesting thing about Revelation 3:20 is that it is talking to CHRISTIANS primarily. Also worth noting, especially for this particular blog, is that Oscar Cullmann, in his article “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in Primitive Christianity” in Essays on the Lord’s Supper, points to Revelation 3:20 as a nod to the eschatological power of the Eucharist, and also points out that there is a “real presence” indicated in the Meal that seems to be missing in at least the way the Pauline tradition of eating flesh and drinking blood had been applied in the Church in later years. These are missing elements for us in the Nazarene Church, in my opinion. What kinds of images or metaphors do you find to be missing in your experience of Communion? What images or metaphors concerning the Eucharist do you find present in the Bible or in other traditions that would make the Eucharist a more powerful sign of God’s presence and grace in our congregations today?
Hope this bit of randomness proves to be useful fodder for our discussion. Peace be with you all.