This Lent, I’ve been exploring the traditional spiritual disciplines of fasting and self-denial; meditation on God’s holy Word; and self-examination and repentance. My central theme has been that spirituality flows through practices that discipline the human heart. Spirituality needs a vehicle or instrument for expression.
Today I turn my attention to the spiritual practice of worship. The Episcopal Church is a liturgical church. We are not the only one, yet what distinguishes us even among other liturgical churches is the beauty of our worship and the importance we place on its form. But what does this really this mean?
I don’t know about you, but I love trains. Given a choice I would always go by train. Let me explain. We board a train in order to be taken on a journey. Along the way, we make numerous stops, but each stop is simply a station we pass through along the route to our intended destination. There is something about being transported at speed, through an ever changing landscape, free of the anxiety of watching the road or the traffic.
Applying this metaphor image to our worship, liturgy like a train transports us through the landscape of sacred time. On Ash Wednesday, we boarded the Easter-bound liturgical Express. It has taken us on a journey through the Lenten countryside; making stops at a different station each Sunday. Along the route, we notice that terrain changes.With each change, our awareness deepens, or maybe heightens is a better spatial term, in preparation for arriving at our ultimate destination.
The final stage of our liturgical train journey will take us through some very dramatic scenery. I am talking about the scenic contours of Holy Week. Our itinerary has us reaching the Palm Sunday station on April 3rd. Here, we notice a change in the air quality, laden with a heightening of expectation as well as apprehension. Compared to our long journey through the Lent countryside, with long expanses between stations, the last leg of our journey is short in terms of distance, the stations increasingly close together. Between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday we will stop at the stations of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Holy Week. Each station is a metaphor for a liturgical experience of the events in Jesus’ last week.
On April 7th, we arrive at the major junction of Maundy Thursday. From here we travel overnight and through the following day’s descent into rocky terrain, reaching the station of the Good Friday Liturgy. From here the liturgical train takes us through a barren plain of Holy Saturday. By evening, we will begin to pass through the last canyon before emerging into a lush valley, the location of our final destination, the golden city of Easter. We might decide to leave the train at the first station in the Easter City, called the Easter Vigil. However, many of us will want to continue through to the main terminus of Easter Day.
Liturgy moves us through sacred time, or put another way the eternal now of God. Psychologically as well as spiritually, liturgy transports us into and through the spiritual landscape of the Christian Calendar. The journey from Ash Wednesday prepares us for joy-filled arrival at Easter. The promise of New Life offers enrichment for our everyday living. Mentally, emotionally, as well as spiritually, we need to prepare for our arrival. Easter is not something you can just parachute into at the last minute – if you want, that is, to be ready for the fullest experience possible.
Worship brings us into the company of others and together we journey into the encounter not only with God, but we also find ourselves reflected in our encounter with one another. Worship brings us to the cross, in the sense of an intersection between the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of life. Invite your friends and board the Easter
Why not invite your friends and board the Easter liturgical Express, stopping at stations in Holy Week and the Triduum or Great Three Days of Easter. You won’t arrive if you don’t get aboard.