Friday, March 21, 2008

ecclesiological musing...

on thursday night i had the opportunity to oversee the maundy thursday service at the gathering.* i began thinking about the service on sunday afternoon and in about 5 minutes i developed the following liturgy, which i think is one of the most innovative services i've had a hand in.

when the participants walked in they entered into a dim and quickly darkening space that was lit only by a trinitarian triangle of three candles. as the liturgy began i shared a few brief thoughts about the intricate relationship between intimacy and desolation** that i perceive in the gospels and then we immediately headed to the front of the church where we celebrated the institution of eucharist by sharing the sacrament together.

we shared the sacrament sinners and saints style*** and it was beautiful. as we stood around the table newly baptized Christians practiced our common priesthood for the first time; local, first-time visitors served out of town guests; and the utterly broken offered this means of grace to the utterly broken.

after eucharist everyone returned to their seats, all of which were encompassed by the trinitarian triangle of candles, and the first reader read matthew 26:36-41. after the reader spoke of Jesus' desperation for support and the disciples resultant slumber, the blew out the first candle then sat down.

immediately following five long, uninterrupted moments of silence followed. i knew that the silence would be awkward and unnerving, but i did not know that it would be so uncomfortable that i would find myself eventually staring at the second reader and inwardly pleading that she would get on with it.

eventually the second reader read matthew 26:42-43. after she had spoken of Christ's willful submission to unrelenting agony as well as the disciples' second failure, she blew out the second candle, then sat down.

five more, slightly less awkward minutes of silence followed. i tried to meditate a bit as i counted in my head to 300 and tried to work up enough courage to enact my portion of the liturgy.

finally, i stood, read matthew 26:45-46. after i read "rise, let us go. here comes my betrayer!" i asked the congregation to rise, picked up a large mirror, handed the mirror to a friend, looked in the mirror and said "here comes Christ's betrayer." then i quickly took the mirror from my friend, held it in front of her face and said "here comes Christ's betrayer." i then proceeded to stumble around the room, holding this large mirror in front of each participant and repeating this rather offensive indictment that clearly resounds through the narrative.

after each participant had faced the mirror and i faced the mirror a second time another three minutes of silence followed. then i clumsily plugged in a spotlight that shone upon a lone cross, took thirty seconds or so to gather my senses and offered a benediction.

i share my reflections on this service not to draw attention to myself, but to record one of my first attempts at developing a liturgy that draws the participants into an experience that resonates with, and hopefully reflects, the encounter recorded in the text. years ago my college preaching profs encouraged us to shape sermons that reflected the shape of the text. i have long realized the wisdom of that teaching and have often tried to fashion my logocentric sermons in such a manner that they reflect the biblical writers' flow of thought. however, it was not until last night that i realized the value of shaping a liturgy that physically, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally draws people into the narrative of the text.

i suppose i also share these reflections as a way of repenting of the derogatory and, i fear, mostly uninformed accusations i have aimed towards folks like dan kimball in the past. i have long been disinterested with the practices and thought of those who i have labeled programmatic emergents since many of the alt.worship experiences i have had have been too individualistically focused and often, in my not-so-humble estimation, trite. i am now beginning to see how potentially meaningful communal liturgical services that are shaped by the text can be. i suppose the next step is for me to explore how meaningful liturgical services can also be shaped in part by the history of Christian practice throughout the ages, but the pixie is staring at me right now and i get the feeling that i need to get off this damned computer.

one more quick note: the first sunday of the coming months, starting april 6, my friend kieren and i are going to be visiting emerging faith communities throughout the boston area. we will be reporting on our travels on this site as well as kieran's emergent wrestlings page. if you're interested in hosting kieren and i at your faith community or you know of a local boston community that you have wanted to explore but haven't yet found the time to do so, please drop me a line at

peace be with you throughout this holiest of holy weeks.

* take a minute and check out our new digs. it's simple, informative and infinitely more accessible than our old site. thank you rhonda and elijah!
** i.e., Jesus is baptized by john in the jordan and immediately heads to the desert; the disciples experience the wonders of the transfiguration only to be warned by Jesus on the way down the mountain that they are not to speak of their experience until after His death; peter's magnificent confession is quickly followed by Christ's denunciation, etc.
*** look the person in the eye, speak their name, offer words of orientation (the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation) and then the recipient becomes the servant.


Smee said...

Jeff, wishing you and yours a Happy Easter.

Also, I've recently created a blog if you'd care to have a peek...


Kieran Conroy said...

Site looks great! Nice work, all!