Liturgy and Ritual
A portion of my sermon for Maundy Thursday … to get us in the mood for worship tonight:
There are two very church sorts of words that get used an awful lot … and often get used incorrectly. These two words are especially important tonight, on Maundy Thursday.
The first word is liturgy. Liturgy just refers to the words we use in worship: the words we pray, the words printed in your bulletin that we say back and forth (the leader saying something and the congregation saying something), the words we use to tell the story of God.
Telling the story is important. It’s what we do as the people of God. Liturgy comes from a Latin word that means “the work of the people”. It’s what we do; it’s our job or our calling.
When God told Moses to instruct the people on how to do the Passover, God told them that the purpose of the feast was to give them the opportunity to tell the story … to pass it on to those who didn’t know the story.
We tell the story … and we do it through liturgy.
The second churchy sort of word is ritual. Usually when we use the word ritual, we mean the stuff we do at church … and especially the way we do it.
Sometimes we get to thinking that there’s only one right way to take up the offering or to pray the prayer of confession. We talk about these things as rituals. But that’s not really what ritual means.
People of faith engage in rituals ‐ in particular actions ‐ trusting that God will meet them in those actions. A ritual is an action that we do as an offering to God, trusting that God will accept it, and ‐ in some way that we don’t quite understand ‐ God will take our action and make something much more, something truly extraordinary out of it.
The Passover, the Lord’s Supper, the whole of worship … all of these are action we take, offerings of ourselves that we make, trusting that God will accept them and do something with them beyond what we, ourselves, can do.
Ritual isn’t just something that we’re so accustomed to that we take it for granted (which is often how we use the word).
Ritual is not a thoughtless action, but a thoughtful one. It is not something that we take for granted but rather, it is a way of giving of ourselves. It is an act of intimacy.