Anglican liturgy can often feel like the Sunday morning work-out of the people of God: Sit. Stand. Kneel. Bow. Turn. Cross yourself. Walk. It’s morning gym at your local church. Spiritual aerobics. That should not surprise us. The word “liturgy” is derived from the Greek word for “work of the people”.
Jesus didn’t leave detailed instructions on worship. He did say “do this in memory of me.” So Anglicans DO things in their services. And the “do” of Jesus is plural – so we do things TOGETHER, as a community. The community is bigger than this Sunday morning church congregation – in fact it is bigger than the local area. There are Anglicans (also called Episcopalians) essentially doing the same all around the world. And we’ve been effectively doing this (along with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others) for a hundred thousand Sundays. Imagine it as one big community across space and time – doing worship. Has any other command ever been so obeyed: “do this.”
When first encountered, Anglican liturgy can appear foreign, counter-cultural. But persevere. We shouldn’t be surprised it appears counter-cultural because our culture is individual, “me”, instant, “now”. Even the spirituality often on offer follows the individual, instant approach: what do I get out of it. Anglican liturgy is about transformation: bread, wine, me, our community, our culture and world. In this picture God doesn’t change us and then we do liturgy (that too may happen). In this picture I join the community that does liturgy and find, little by little (and sometimes by a surprising leap) God changes me.
Anglican liturgy is action accompanied by interpretive words. Too often it is treated like lots of words - with some illustrating actions. Liturgy is a discipline that takes time and patience to learn and grow into.