My interaction with Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology continues…
Worship can be ideally described as the response of the church to the revelation of God in Christ. But there has to be a way for that to be actualized. The abstract concepts must take concrete form. This is where the church’s liturgy comes in (liturgy = the way the church worships). Liturgy could be said to be embodied worship.
Chan says that the church throughout history has recognized that the basic, fundamental structure and underlying foundation of the church’s liturgy consists in two parts, Word and sacrament. Calvin: “Whenever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there . . . a church of God exists.” Lutheran liturgiologist Frank Senn: “The church is visible only where the people assemble to do those things that constitute them as the people of God–proclaim the word of God and celebrate the sacraments of Christ.”
I wondered if this recognition has come mainly from something we see in Scripture, or perhaps more from the experience of church tradition. It’s one of those tricky doctrine-experience dialectics. Chan says Word and sacrament relate to one another in a number of ways. We do see a church organized around those things in Acts 2:42, however: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
So Chan sees the basic structure of the church’s liturgy consisting of Word and sacrament (and he seems to be in pretty good company, historically). He sees Word and sacrament relating to one another in a number of different ways.
First, Word and sacrament are inseparable. We lose a proper eschatological tension if we divorce Word from sacrament. Too much Word, and the church is forgetting that the kingdom is here (the “already”). Too much sacrament, and the church is forgetting that the old world still continues, that there still is a need for God’s inviting word to be preached (the “not yet”). They should be held together. Some people get nervous about this, as it would mean celebrating the Lord’s Supper at every service. “Won’t it lose its meaning if we do it too often?” Well, no, not if you understand it correctly. It’s not just a commemorative event, like a birthday party. The Lord’s Supper is a “feeding on Christ to eternal life,” that makes us into what we eat. So doing it often certainly won’t make it lose its significance. That’s like saying that eating three meals a day will eventually erode the meaning of eating. Reformed evangelical pastor Leonard J. Vander Zee (now that’s a name!) says it this way: “We need every nourishment God provides, and to miss the meal not only snubs his gracious hospitality but creates spiritual anorexics.”
The way to understand it, Chan says, is that “sacrament brings the Word to its fulfillment… Word without sacrament remains incomplete, and sacrament without Word becomes an empty sign.”
Side note: I used to question the role of the sermon in church practice. Surely not everyone is fully living in what was preached the previous week, so why keep talking? Chan’s book is helping me understand a bit more of what is really going on in the preaching of God’s Word. When people question the role of sermons and preaching in the church, perhaps what they are reacting against is simply bad preaching (Dr. Phil-esque tips on family life, for example), as opposed to anointed, biblical preaching. There is something more mysterious going on in preaching than simply the communication of ideas or teaching or learning. Okay, onward.
Chan goes on to talk about Word and sacrament as reflection and participation. In hearing the Word, we reflect on the meaning of the meal; in eating the bread and drinking the wine, we participate in the life of Christ. Both are vital ways the church is formed.
They are also revelation and response. The Word is God revealing himself, the Eucharist is the church’s normative response to that Word.
Word and sacrament are also preparation and fulfillment. The Word prepares us to receive the blessing of the Eucharist.
It’s a pretty strong argument for celebrating the Eucharist at least as often as the Word is preached, it seems to me.