“Oh no,” I whisper to myself.
I’m standing in a vast room with a ceiling high above me. There are pillars to support it. I’m sitting in a stepped pew with places mared out with arm-rests. It’s made of some dark wood, and seems very old. There is a lectern in front of me, facing towards the rear of the room. I was not facing the lectern but was perpendicular to it. It was comfortingly cool in this big, stone room. It was an attractive space. the paint looked fresh and colours were bright but tasteful.
“Oh no”, I whisper.
I pick up the booklet with the words ‘the daily eucharist written on the front.
It’s more than a page long. It’s more than two pages long. It may have been eight pages long!
Oh no. I thought this was going to be simple.
I feel I ought to confess something to you, today. It’s a matter of grave importance and possibly even one’s eternal destination. That weighty fact is this: I am a Baptist. For those who didn’t instantly stop reading this blog, you should understand that Baptists have a few hang ups about liturgy. I remember hearing someone talk about a High-Church communion service as a ‘ritual’ which apparently meant it was void of any meaning, sincerity or Holy Spirit. Meanwhile we assure ourselves that the 20 minute worship set we endure enjoy each week is nothing of the sort.
You see, I was in a large cathedral in an old city in the north. It was a beautiful building, an a wonderfully peaceful place to be. I’d rocked up with a friend of mine apparently just in time for the lunch time Eucharist service. After being pointed in the right direction, we join the other five people who are participating in Communion.
So, little old Baptist me gets awfully confused when everyone else stands. I presumed it was a mere hiccup, and everyone else would be safely on their pews within moments. Then I realised they were standing to pray the opening words together. Oops.
This was the first of many mistakes. I managed to stand up at the right point around thirty percent of the time. I managed to follow the right words around fifty percent and there was a massively awkward fumble at the altar as we all stood in a circle around it.
Tragically, I had left my booklet over in the pew, thus I had no idea what the words were going to be for this part of the service. I managed to hold it together, by mumbling to myself in order that onlookers would believe I knew the words. Pro-tip: If you mouth the word ‘watermelon’, you can pretty much get away with not knowing the words.
Despite all this nonsense, confusion and unvcertainty on my part, we were still a group of Christians gathered together to partake of the Lord’s supper. Together we received the… they call it bread? And of course the wine. The alcoholic kind, which would have been totally unacceptable in a Baptist setting! The body and blood. The meal Jesus shared with his disciples. And there was the renewed awareness of the things of God.
When Luther first administered Mass as a priest in the Roman tradition, he was so awestruck at the experience that he later wrote this:
‘At [the words of the liturgy] I was utterly stupefied and terror-struck. I thought to myself, “With what tongue shall I address such Majesty. . .Who am I that I should lift up my eyes . . ? At his nod the earth trembles. . . And shall I, a miserable pygmy, say I want this, I ask for that? For I am dust and ashes and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God”!’
I think even as an irreverent Baptist could grasp something of the significance of the act of worship through the thoughtful, challenging and beautiful liturgy. It is good to meet with God at his table.
The moment was sort of ruined when, instead of returning to my pew I thought it was over and went to leave, causing me to lunge wildly towards the pew at the last second.
How funny, to find the majesty and beauty of God in a fumbled liturgy. He’s gracious like that, though.