In today’s daily office reading, we read these words from Isaiah:
” He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (8:14)
This is a very puzzling, intriguing juxtaposition–God as both sanctuary and stumbling stone. To me it speaks of the dual purpose of liturgy–to celebrate God’s triumph of love over fear and to issue forth a prophetic challenge to the ways we fall short of honoring this triumph with our own acts of love in a dispirited world. I’ve found this passage from William Stringfellow recently which I think captures the heart of the matter–and helps me understand why the church’s corporate worship is crucial in the world we live in today:
Worship is the celebration of life in its totality. Worship is the sacramental appropriation of all of life in celebration. Worship is the festival of creation. Organized public corporate worship is a theatrical restoration of creation in which each and all of the participants symbolically and ritually enjoy their own selves and one another and all things. Liturgical worship, which is inherently a communal event, whether formal or spontaneous, whether traditional or extemporaneous, is an esoteric portrayal of the reconciliation of the whole world.
Worship is the celebration of life in its ultimate expectancy. Sacramental worship is always, hence, profoundly ethical and specifically and selfconsciously eschatological in its ethics, exposing contemporary society-whatever its current estate, whenever it is, wherever it happens to be-to the Gospel’s eagerness for the end and fulfillment of history in God. In turn, that means that worship is explicitly a political and social happening of the most radical dimensions, illuminating every flaw and injustice, every falsity and offense, every vanity and need of the prevailing social order while notoriously, passionately, incessantly calling for the over- turning-or, more literally, the transfiguring-of the incumbent order in society.