The best of religion calls us, as humans, to develop our power of reason in order to understand ourselves, our relationship to others, and our position in the universe (Fromm 1978). The best of theistic religion also calls upon humanity to be in right relationship with the Divine. It is from that relationship we are to engage the world around us. Christianity at its best is tasked with engaging the world by living out the principles embodied in the person and work of Jesus. As a prophetic religion, Christianity seeks to transform the world in God’s name (Volf 2011). From the gathering to the sending of our corporate worship experiences the Church seeks to be the place where justice is elucidated, while injustice is interrogated so that upon leaving worship we are agents of the Divine in bringing Light where there is darkness. The Church in its liturgy, and praxis, is where religion and culture come together. Religion is never incidental to a culture, and every theological formulation, no matter how primitive, no matter how sophisticated, must ultimately be seen against it in conversation with the culture that produced it (Lincoln 1974). The Gospel message makes Christianity and the Church different from the culture and yet essential to the culture at the same time.
With this in mind we consider that liturgical theology is in some ways always public theology. Liturgical theology inquires into the meaning of the liturgy and asks whether our signs and words say something authentic and reliable about God (Lathrup 1993). Public theology engages the broader society in gospel values, much the way the public intellectual embraces the opportunity to participate in public affairs to make academic ideas accessible to a broader public audience (West 2006). A common problem with prophetic messages and messengers is that they sometimes overwhelm their audiences with the magnitude of injustice in the world, leaving individuals feeling that nothing can be done to make a difference (J. A. Jr. 2006). The project then of the church, in our corporate worship, must be to make accessible to the faithful worshipper, and the welcomed guest, the truth about the character and nature of God. Those tasked with leading worship within the Christian tradition, must lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the principles of the gospel as revealed in the person and work of Jesus. Those outside the Christian tradition, who may lead liturgical moments, must also lean into the responsibility to be reliable communicators of the best of that particular religious heritage. Public worship experiences are neither the project of individual enterprise nor of collective enterprise, but rather a synthesis that regards both.
This week let us be invigorated by the prophetic call to engage gathering worshippers in the prophetic call and witness of the church through the life of the liturgy of our congregations. One of the gifts that liturgy brings is the opportunity to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and let social misery be put on the agenda of those in power. As Dr. King once pointed out we may have been prone to judge our success by the index of our salaries or by the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationships to humanity, but we can offer a picture of a preferable future through the beauty of worship (Jr. 2015). We design our worship experiences knowing that moral action is based on a broad, robust prophetism that highlights systemic social analysis of circumstances under which tragic persons struggle (Buschendorf 2014).
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
Buschendorf, Cornel West with Christa. 2014. Black Prophetic Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.
Fromm, Erich. 1978. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven: YAle University Press.
Jr., J. Alfred Smith. 2006. Speak Until Justice Wakes. Edited by Jini M. Kilgore. Valley Forge: Judson Press.
Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.
Lathrup, Gordon W. 1993. Holy Things. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Lincoln, C. Eric. 1974. The Black Church Since Franklin. New York: Shocken Books.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Pulic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good . Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
West, Traci C. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Woman’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.