As holy week approaches, a recurring question of this time in the Church’s year comes to me: why do people come to church services around Easter? Perhaps it is a sense of duty, of something that should be done, like paying taxes or walking the dog. Or maybe there is a family member to be satisfied, a cultural heritage of religiosity that demands that to be true to one’s family of origin one must ‘do the religious thing’ before heading off to an Easter Sunday brunch. I have also wondered though if there is more going on in people’s sudden appearance at this time of year and that it has something to do with our need to remember.
The Church’s liturgy is resplendent with memory. The ancient tales of antiquity’s nomadic and oppressed people of God, the anamnesis of the broken body and bread of Jesus, the signs and symbols of the ‘something more’ of God that permeates our world yet whose life in us we are sometimes dull to realizing, all of them are on display through the course of an hour and half’s worship. Yet the enduring problem of such other-worldly acts, both for people who come to experience them weekly and for those whose experience of them is intermittent, is that the act is mistaken for the reality that is being remembered. We come to worship in the context of community not to complete something, a duty or a cultural behavior, but to start something entirely different altogether. We come to worship to remember what it is to be human, to remember what it is to long for the deep things of God that hitherto in our busy and distracted and indeed self-satisfying lives have gone unnoticed.
The life of the worshiping Church is where we come to remember in order to re-member our life with the world’s life. To be immersed in the ancient song and ritual of the temple is to offer us the opening to be re-oriented to our true vocation: to be salt and light for the world. To hear the words of millennia-old scripture and witness the vibrancy of people who gather to proclaim a good word to the world is to prepare ourselves to become Word made flesh. For it is our fleshliness that counts in the end. Our capacity to become divine in the world for which God became flesh in order to be reconciled to is our best hope for the world to see God for itself.
When we set out, prepared in advance by our liturgical labor together, to meet the world as it is in all of its holiness and utter profanity, we make our way on the road to Galilee, the place of the nations, the place where worldly things are. When the divine life in us shows up in our homes, in our family relationships, in our workplace tensions and hopes, on our street corners and in our shopping malls, in our prisons and our schools, in our gated communities and our housing projects, the Word becomes flesh all over again. Hope is spoken to an amnesic world, and the God of glory may come in to heal and redeem his people. And so, as the week we call holy beckons us to sit in the sanctuary and enter into again the silence of a slaughtered God, our hope is set on what this unnerving demonstration of true power – the power of a love that gives itself away for us – will do to us as our flesh shall also see God.