Re-Membering Church

October 6, 2010

In a recent post on the United Methodist Portal, Andrew Thompson offers some great thoughts on the UMC Re-Think church campaign. You can find that article here, to get those thoughts in detail (and I definitely encourage you to do so!). In his article, Andrew talks about a few ways we can engage “Re-Thinking”* church by “remembering.” Remembering can be an action we do with our minds, but it also means a deeper action, a putting back together of our church, our hearts, and our lives in Christ.

The question is, “how do we re-member?” Catechesis is one significant access to the memory-deposit of the church that many mainline Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic Evangelical pastors and theologians alike encourage our churches to turn toward. Catechesis engages new (and old!) Christians in a process of learning the content of the faith we profess. Catechesis trains Christians to remember the deposit of hope placed in us at our baptism, when we are initiated into Christ’s body.

But for re-membering to be a serious desire for the re-ordering of our lives, (and if we are seriously not Pelagians who believe we can do it all ourselves) we must also ask, “How are we re-membered individually and as a church?” Here we must expand our catechetical engagement to include sacramental catechesis. In other words, we must learn and teach the faith first in the school of Worship of our Living God.

In all worship, but especially in the sacraments, we remember and we are are re-membered by Christ. Now let me clarify my terms here: our sacramental memory is no “mere” memorial. Our sacramental memory is dynamic, our sacramental memory is anamnetic.** As we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper, we are re-membered into faithful disciples obeying the call of the Lord. Our sacramental celebration of the Eucharist presences us within the broken body of Christ for the transformation of the world when we affirm the prayer of the church, “Pour out your Holy Spirit upon these gifts of bread and wine make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by His blood…” with our (hopefully vigorous!) Amen.

I’m a United Methodist female candidate for ministry attending a Roman Catholic university. I attend Mass as often as I can at school and Eucharist at my UM Church on Sunday because I take John Wesley’s admonition to “constant communion” seriously. Living in the liminal sacramental space of Christ’s severed body the church hurts my heart. This is not a statement to say that anybody is “wrong” in their open or closed table. It’s not a placement of fault: that’s an unhelpful dead end conversation. But the sacramental broken body of our Lord should break our hearts so that they can remember the love of our God in glory. Like Paschal, I am convicted every single day when I worship that “Christ is in agony until the end of the world.” I am convinced that re-thinking must begin with re-membering and being re-membered. Re-thinking church can only begin by allowing ourselves to be re-membered as the sacramental body of our Lord and by being renewed through the memory and mind of Christ offered to us in the liturgy of the Church.

Amen.

*Re-Think church names a recent United Methodist movement to open the windows and doors of the church to the renewal of the Holy Spirit. For a more in-depth discussion see the UMC website.

**Anamnesis is a greek term, and by it the church means indicates a type of memory that places us at Christ’s eschatalogical table. We remember the passion of our Lord in such a way that it becomes real in our twenty first century reality. We affirm that in the sacraments God’s Holy Spirit re-members God’s church to be the body of Christ even as we partake of the bread and the wine.

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iLiturgize

May 29, 2010

My friend Katie is a champion multi-tasker with school & news & blogs. I confess, I am not (hence, I haven’t posted in several months). She sent me this article on Cyber-Worship a few months ago, in the thick of Advent, GRE, and finals and I didn’t have a chance to actually sit down and think about it on paper until recently. The article reinforces something we all probably knew deep down… the liturgical community desperately needs  to grapple with and engage the ‘online worship’ phenomenon. For the sake and love of all things apple and trendy, and for a fun play on words: let’s call it ‘iLiturgy.’

Right away, there are notable upsides to online liturgy: the biggest being that people who cannot go to church are able to participate. In this sense it functions as a tv-worship service of the same variety I used to watch every summer Sunday I spent at my Nana’s house. For some, there are physical limitations or illnesses that truly prevent their physical presence and a webcast quite frankly presences them with the community. For others though, TV or Internet worship becomes a substitute for a real, living breathing worshiping community.  Rather than building a bridge to worship, it hyper-personalizes the experience and removes any responsibility to the worshiping community.

I realize that I am toeing the Duke Divinity line here, but people outside the bubble agree: you can’t participate in Christ without participating in Christ’s people. And here is the fundamental problem cyber worship must overcome. First, we need people to remove the logs from our eyes and show us our sins plain and simple. And then we need one another to lean on as we stumble toward reconciliation with Christ.

We need a living, breathing, community of screw-ball human beings to reveal all the grotesque monsters and madness we masquerade as individuality, quirks, or (worse) “necessary evils.” Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche community, writes that in community, “we realize how incapable we are of oiving, how much we deny life to others. So community life brings a painful revelation of our own limitations.” Unless we are confronted with Christ in others: unless we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters Paul would say, all of our praise songs and bread and juice mean nothing, nada, zip, zilch etc. And believe me, if you attend a church for a few weeks, you’ll probably find somebody to forgive. Attend a church for a day or two and you’ll probably need to ask forgiveness.

But finding our own sin, we learn to ask for forgiveness from one another, from Christ. And with forgiveness comes reconciliation. When we pass the peace (which ought to come after the confession), Christians make a bold declaration: all the sin in the world cannot over come Christ’s power to forgive and restore. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, In Christ you are a new creation, and remember Paul was writing to the whole church. All this hangs on participating in Christ together, at the same table, in the same pew.

Hear me now, I am not saying that invalids and the home and hospital bound cannot really worship. Chances are, if somebody puts that much energy into watching a grainy, spotty, reproduction of worship they have known the community and all its messyness and managed to learn how to love. But for the rest of us, most of us, particularly us ‘younguns’: we’d best learn how to love each other in the pews. Because heaven knows, we don’t do  in the world.