As global, national, local atrocities are seemingly on the rise, humanitarian efforts abound. God’s work is flourishing as countless spokespersons and activists respond to the needs that exist throughout the world, inspiring others to do the same. For example, David Letterman’s recent Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, focuses on current needs, like sponsoring refugees, and historical events, such as the civil rights movement, which so desperately need to be remembered within this current political climate, particularly south of the border.
So, what is the difference between this brand of reaching out and the missional work to which the Church is called? The answer is motivation. From what roots do these actions arise? It is often said that people respond in generous ways because it makes them feel good. Conversely, we – the Church – are called to live generously, because we recognize God’s generosity to us. Our roots for missional work begin with Abram to whom God said, “…I will bless you; I will make your name great; and you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2). As we have been, and continue to be, blessed, we are required to be a blessing to others.
Worship and mission are inseparable. Our liturgy is the very presence of Jesus, the Servant of justice, found in the people gathered, the Word proclaimed, the Body and Blood shared. This is where we discover, and rediscover, our roots, week after week, year after year. This is where we are fed, informed, inspired; and this is from where we are sent. In The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, Joan Chittister makes the point, “To live the liturgical year is to keep our lives riveted on one beam of light called the death and Resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us here and now.” For Christians, this is the springboard from which all mission occurs, and it is experienced within our liturgy in four parts.
The Gathering of the Community
As we gather together for worship each week, we do so with the crucified and risen Christ as our unifying force. Though we are diverse, the liturgy promises to free us from all division so that we may discover and embrace a light – the light – that can unleash us from all that separates us from God, ourselves, each other, and the world in which we live. As we acknowledge Jesus as the unifying force within the diversity of the church, we are called to be channels through which this unity is made known in the world.
The Proclamation of the Word
The entire biblical narrative, from Genesis to Revelation, speaks of a God who, in love, is determined to make things right with humanity: to counter the fall and restore shalom. For now, however, the world is not as God intends it to be. Our reading of God’s Word is essential because it embraces the whole story of God’s unrelenting pursuit of a people and world set right at last, in God’s time and at God’s expense. Through this Sacred text we are reminded that God works through us in the unfolding of this plan.
Once we have feasted at the table of God’s Word, the liturgy calls us to affirm our faith. We then pray for the needs of the Church and the world. We engage in the Confession and Absolution, during which we catch a glimpse into a restored relationship with God and each other. Then we share the Peace, which is an outward and visible sign of our anticipation of the reign of God.
The Celebration of the Eucharist
In the Eucharist, Jesus gives all and holds nothing back. According to Thomas Cranmer, bread and wine become the true presence of his body and blood, poured out for us in total, self-giving love. God’s relationship with us is a long history of ever-deepening communion. As God, through Jesus, holds nothing back in the Eucharist, so we must hold nothing back.
Everything in liturgy leads to this. Perhaps instead of saying that we “go to church,” we need to say, “we go to worship so that we may become church.” As Anglicans, all missional work is rooted in gathering with others for liturgical worship so that we may be fed by the Proclamation of the Word, and the Celebration of the Eucharist.
The purpose of the dismissal is not so much to end the liturgy as it is the consummation: sending the whole community out into the world to love and serve others as we have been loved and served. As individuals, whatever our vocation(s) may be, all that we are and all that we do rises out of God’s selfless love for us; a love proclaimed and nurtured through our liturgy. As church, all our ministries rise from this same selfless love. All truth and reconciliation; acts of forgiveness; concerns for justice and kindness stem from the call to love as we have been loved. As we have been blessed, we are called to become a blessing to others. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
Donna’s Recommended Reading List
Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and Truth Edited by Anne Y. Koester
Worship and Mission After Christendom by Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider
Church After Christendom by Stuart Murray
A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story by Michael W. Goheen
The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission by Christopher J. H. Wright
God’s Politics: A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America by Jim Wallis
The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister