How liturgy helps me


Today is Friday.  Normally that means Psalm 95 but today being Epiphany it is Psalm 100:

O be joyful in the Lord, all the earth;
Serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.

Each morning in church we say together Morning Prayer using a booklet curate Michael Follin put together in 2003 from the recently introduced Common Worship.  Since then it has become part of my life.

Of course, liturgy in many ways is out of favour.  Certainly it doesn’t fit easily in our modern culture. It inhibits spontaneity, just saying out words from a book while your mind is elsewhere.

However, an apt quote in defence of liturgy from my hero, Tom Wright:
“The author chuckles at the resistance to using a prepared, written liturgy in prayer. He compares it to being unwilling to dress in any clothing we did not make ourselves, or being unwilling to drive a car we did not construct entirely by ourselves.”

However, for me regular liturgy is a major resource.  For one of the effects of saying morning prayer over the years is that huge chunks of scripture are now embedded in my brain.

Of course, there are times when I speak the words along with my fellow disciples while I am thinking something else.  Other times I just jog through the text.

But all the time these words of scripture are doing their work in my life. They are now there in my memory without any conscious effort to remember them.

We need to have a memory bank of scriptures.  Sometimes you may not even realise that they are there but you will certainly need this God-given resource.  Sometimes that is all that we have left.

As vicar I am regularly called out to pray with someone who is dying.  Already twice this year.  It is a sacred moment.

Usually they are barely conscious and so I bend down to speak gently into their ear.  Here Psalm 23 comes into its own
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes my lie down in green pastures,
He leads me besides the still waters.

Here by using a familiar and much loved passage of scripture,  we claim God’s’ blessing, his protection though the valley of the shadow of death.  This is so much more powerful when the passage is owned and known.

When loved ones are present, together we say the Lord’s Prayer.  This is an example, so obvious we may not realise it, of liturgy being accessed in time of need.

We see this above all Jesus.  In excruciating pain and with his strength ebbing away, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46).

Here Jesus speaks out scripture: Psalm 31:5.  And more, like saying Psalm 23, the wider context gives the full meaning.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

As a Jew this was part of his heritage.  It comes naturally to him to access God’s word. He would have learnt this through synagogue from his earliest years.

For liturgy is for all of us, as this lovely story from Doug Chaplin of the Diocese of Worcester shows:

“I know a family whose youngest child has some learning difficulties that seemed particularly to affect her language skills. She struggled to join in with the simplest conversation verbally, even as she also gave other signs of intelligence and understanding what others were saying.

“In worship, she appeared to like to be there, (for the parts of the service other children were present) but simply couldn’t cope with some of the simpler action songs other children enjoyed, even if she tried to join in.

“After a few months had passed, she suddenly started joining in verbally. What she joined in singing was the Gloria in Excelsis (in English!): the same words to the same tune every week had become the means of participation. They are not particularly readable words, and not the first remedy one might have suggested for a child with learning difficulties.

“But they reveal something about the power of respecting the basics of liturgy.”