Remember the symbol of the fiddler on the roof, perched precariously and dangerously, in Fiddler on the Roof? Remember Tevya stomping his feet, waving his arms, and belting out, “Tradition! Tradition!”?
Le’Dor Va’Dor means “from generation to generation” in Hebrew. And that is foundational to the Jewish religion: passing it on to your kids and grandkids. That is exactly why the Jews have outlasted any other people group on the face of the earth. They understand and embrace tradition–biblical, rabbinical, family, spiritual, social, cultural–it is all rolled into one big matzah ball.
Yesterday morning Wayne and I attended Rosh HaShanah services at a Messianic Jewish synagogue in Dallas. In the service, we followed the prescribed tradition of the holiday, centuries old. Ancient and new at once, it glowed with depth, and we unpacked its meaning through the means of liturgy.
Jewish liturgy never ceases to move and amaze me.
In the service, we rehearshed with the congregation the biblical meanings of the day: The historical foundation, the Psalm and praises, the songs. We said things that the Jewish people have been rehearsing for centuries. The rabbi repeated his parts, the cantor chanted his parts, and the congregation echoed ours.
Since Judaism is the root of Christianity, I am sure the liturgy found within the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches is somewhat similiar. However, a liturgical service like this is foreign to many branches of Christianity, and even may be disdained by some.
Some scream that it is boring or rote or even dead for crying out loud! That it just plain does not give one the freedom to express a depth of heart to God.
But I love the liturgy, of course if it is not contrary to the Bible. The repitition of the words grows sweeter with the passing of each Sabbath celebration or holiday.
I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home right after high school. It was a wonderful experience for which I remain grateful to this day. I remember warmly one of my patients, Mrs. Spaulding–a small, Jewish woman with a mighty will. I loved her feistiness. I sought to win her affections, so I sat by her chair when I had a free moment or two and tried to engage her in coversation. She was not lucid all the time; but when she was, I could tell she was a very intelligent woman.
She often repeated over and over Jewish prayers she had no doubt learned as a child. Whether she was lucid or not; those prayer remained deep in her heart, and they bubbled up when everything else seemed gone.
Both Christians and Jews have depended on Scripture or liturgy based on Scripture to see them through catastrophic events. I heard one Holocaust survivor give testimony that he repeated the Psalms of Ascent during his most difficult days in a concentration camp. Those words became living and mighty to see him through the nightmare.
How many Christians have repeated Psalms 23 on a death bed or at the passing of a loved one? Wouldn’t it be lovely and beautiful, even captivating, to participate in a liturgy based on Psalm 23?
Liturgy is missing in many churches today. Ceremony is missing. Something wonderful happens as the prayers are recited; they are driven deeper and deeper into our beings, year after year. Their repitition anchors the stake of faith into the heart, deepening, strengthening, preparing it for the “dark night of the soul.”
Recently my pastor asked me to write a statement of faith for the whole church to repeat. My heart leaped at the opportunity. First I wrote the statement he requested; then I grew creative and decided it wasn’t enough, so I wrote a whole liturgy on faith. It evolved into parts for the pastor and parts for the congregation and develped into a guide through the aspects of biblical faith to encourage the worshiper.
The pastor loved it, but it wasn’t what he asked for.
Then I realized how hungry I am to see liturgy used in the church as I know it.
Right now I am wondering what the “one new man” will look like–the one described in Ephesians. This is who the “Church” will become at the end of the age, before Jesus returns.
I don’t think we would recognize this “one new man” if he walked up to us and started a conversation. He may dance like an African or bob like a Jew when he prays. He may bow down seven times a day like a Muslim to pray or he may kneel at the altar like a Baptist. He may celebrate the High Holy Days and Christmas in the same year. He may wear a black robe and speak in tongues. He may have one black arm and one yellow arm. He may lift one in praise and follow a liturgical prayer book with the other.
I am not saying there are many roads to God. There is only one, and it is narrow. I am saying the “one new man” will reflect the body of Christ in many surprising ways–in ways we may not be prepared to embrace now. Remember, the road is narrow, and sometime we may think we alone with our familiar traditions of faith are on that road. The road may be narrow, but God’s heart is wide, much wider than we can imagine.
There is something deep in my heart that believes we may still use that liturgy I wrote on faith… until then,
a good book on understanding the place of liturgy and other practices for the Jewish people is “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren F. Winner.
12 Comments Add yours
Some people’s traditions devalue traditions. Others who say they have no traditions actually do. We must evaluate tradition with faith and the Bible. Traditions can be very good. Don’t run from them.
We have a beautiful old Episcopalian church here in our town, which hosts an open house every year on St. Nicholas Day the first part of December. As an historical landmark, they allow the public to tour their well kept sanctuary at the beginning of the Advent season. When you enter the century old doors, you can sense the awe and reverence of the place, esteemed so highly by the parishioners, because this is the area they meet with God.
Liturgy, as you pointed out, draws from the deep well of ancient truth…and you can sense the Holy Spirit’s welcoming presence in that place of worship because you can feel their respectful fear of the Lord. I’ve often wanted to attend their Christmas Eve midnight mass, and partake of what must be a glorious liturgical service that we evangelicals miss out on. I’ll have to do that one of these days….
Tara, Your description of the old Episcopalian church makes me want to see it and experience its beauty and ancient roots.
When we lived in Cyprus, there was a small Orthodox church on the corner of our street. I occasionally went in there and soaked in the reverence. I loved the glow and flicker of the burning candles and the rough stucco walls and dark wooden beams. If no one was around, I would sing. The accoustics made even my voice sound good!
We have a Catholic church close to us now, and Wayne and I have considered attending a Christmas or Easter mass as well, just for the experience. I am sure the liturgy will be in Latin, at least parts of it. At least I can understand the Hebrew in the synagogue.
Wayne, Thanks for your comments. I think faith and the Bible are the best standards to evaluate traditions such as liturgy or anything we do over and over to worship God. In fact, they are the only measuring rod I know of.
typically, catholic services are no longer in latin. That kinda went out with the 2nd vatican counsil in the 60’s. I know, there are still some catholic churches who ignored the counsil & still worship in Latin (ie, the church that Mel Gibson goes to) The priest also in those churches do not face the congregation.
Being raised Catholic myself, i still freak out sometimes when I attend mass with my mom & sister when I visit them at Chritmas time. Why I get freaked out? Because of how I still can recall every part of the mass, when to sit, kneel, stand. I know what the priest is about to say & everything in the litergy.
However, I DO love the old hymns. there is such depth in those old songs. You can hear the worshipping heart arise from the words! I want to worship expressively at times when I am at mass, but I am afraid I would give my mom a coronary! 🙂
I have heard others who have left the Catholic church say they do not enjoy returning, and some say they despise the liturgy because it was and is dead to them.
Hey, parts of the services of the evangelical churches can be dead as a door nail, too!
Of course, you know what I mean here: There is truth and treasure locked within the walls of the historic churches worth examining.
And yes, I am sure your mom appreciates your mild behavior in mass! Ha!
Sarah, thanks for sharing. I love your comments!
I love liturgy, and am still drawn by it. There’s a real reason why I was once merely months from joining the priesthood- the community! the unity!
Some find it bland, I find it blissful. So many people, yet all one chorus. The altar, after all, had specific dimensions- and in such a medium the spontanaeity of fire fell. It was during a liturgical service of dedication that God overwhelmed all of Israel and her priests, gathered to open the temple.
To me, liturgy, if it comes from a response of the heart to a decree or desire of God, can be a highway towards a head-on collision with His presence.
Too often we use the excuse of “making sure there is room for the Spirit to fall” when He is waiting on our response, be it liturgical or otherwise- if our heart is in it.
Because Church is cumbersome if there’s no unity 😛
I wonder how much of an answer liturgy would be to the evangelical notion of “unity.” We certainly bark about it a lot!
Jeremy, I thought about you when I wrote this, remembering your desire to enter the priesthood once.
Ahh! Unity! In the Church!
Make us one as Father and Son are one!
Now you would be the perfect person to write and introduce liturgy to the evangelical churches.
Think about it!
Bonnie, I would love to read your Statement of Faith that you have written from your heart for the Church.
Thanks for leaving a comment. Nice to hear from you. I will pass on the statement of faith.
Why don’t you put it on your blog?