The word “liturgy” means “work of the people.” In a liturgical church, the Pastor may lead the worship service, but it is truly a work of everyone there; that is, the laity.
In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster classifies the liturgy as sacramental prayer. Although some may protest that it encourages people to pray by rote and without emotional involvement, Foster says this kind of prayer can be freeing for the following reasons:
- It helps us to pray when we are feeling spent or inarticulate. There are many times when I don’t really feel like praying, but going to church on Sunday reinforces the habit of prayer and gets me back on track.
- It unites us with the “communion of saints” and reminds us that we’re part of something much bigger than we are as individuals, or even as our local congregation. When I visit a different Lutheran church on vacation and settle into a familiar liturgy, I feel instantly at home.
- It squashes the need to be entertaining. Anybody can do the liturgy. You don’t have to have a way with words, or an outgoing personality. Children quickly pick it up! As an introvert, it helps me stop worrying about, “what am I going to say next?” For me, it keeps the focus to remain on God, not the pray-er.
- The formality of the liturgy reminds us that God is awesome and should be approached with respect. He is the creator and we are His creatures. Worship, in my mind, should be different from day-to-day life.
- Here’s my favorite: the liturgy keeps us from thinking we can practice religion privately. It’s the work of the community, the people of God. Foster describes it this way:
“It is so very human of us to allow our petty concerns to be the whole burden of our prayer. Now it is not wrong to pray over our own pressing needs, but that must never be the end of our prayer work. Through the liturgy we are constantly being brought back to the life of the whole community; we are constantly being confronted with sound doctrine; we are constantly being forced to hear the whimper of the poor and see the tumult of nations.”
So next time you think about skipping your weekly worship service, think again. You’re needed. You don’t have to be the Pastor, or the reader, or in the choir. You’re not “the audience.” It’s part of your work as a Christian lay person to support the community in worship. Be there.