“The embodiment of the Easter story’s pattern in our lives means ... a new way of governing our bodies. That is how we are in touch with the story.”
- Hans W. Frei, “The Identity of Jesus Christ” (Fortress Press, p. 171)
Where and with whom we place our bodies is the way in which we live our interpretation of the gospel. Recently I overheard a member of University Hill Congregation saying: “These days the decision to get out of bed on Sunday morning and make your way to worship to be with other followers of Jesus is a huge statement”. When it comes to bodily worship there is much to be said for expanding our capacity to sway and clap to the music, to incorporate liturgical dance and more. But first it needs to be said that choosing to place our bodies within the worshiping community is the primal way in which we embody our discipleship in worship. Getting out of bed, turning off the TV, saying ‘no’ to the invitation to Sunday morning brunch and placing our wondrous yet broken bodies within the Body of Christ is the crucial bodily discipline of the liturgy.
At University Hill Congregation we are re-discovering a variety of ways in which the liturgy trains our bodies to interpret the gospel. At baptism, renewal of baptism and confirmation we kneel at the font as an act of going down into the water - a sign of our dying to our former way of life and of submitting to the new way of life that is the gospel. As Lent begins we receive the imposition of ashes on our foreheads. At the conclusion of Lent and on the Sunday nearest All-Saints Day we receive a laying on of hands and an anointing with oil in a rite of healing. On each of the four Sundays in the season of Advent and the five Sundays in the season of Lent as well as on at least a dozen other Sundays in the year we come to the table to eat the bread and drink the wine so that our bodies can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). And whenever we worship God we make bodily music together, reveling in the harmonies that our differing voices unite to make. In our singing we hear the sound of our varied voices becoming one voice - the voice of the Body of Christ.
But the most obvious embodiment of the gospel on Sundays occurs as we begin. We sing a gathering song, a sign that worship is beginning. As the song moves to its final verse the congregation stands. The presider steps forward, saying: “At this table Jesus Christ is both host and unseen guest. The Peace of Christ be with you all.” To this the congregation replies with one voice: “And also with you”. The presider then says: “I invite you to extend the hand of the Peace of Christ to one another.” The congregation than enacts a performance of the gospel as neighbour turns to neighbour and stranger turns to stranger offering the blessing: “The Peace of Christ be with you”, and then receiving the blessing: “And also with you”.
When we adopted this as an every Sunday rite there was a “Hello, how are you?” quality to passing the peace. Hundreds of Sundays later there is a growing sense of the holy nature of this re-enactment of the gospel. Once folk did not move far from their seats, blessing only those who were close at hand. Now the passing of the peace takes up an extended period of time as more travel to bless others who are located far across the sanctuary. We are moved by the living gospel that we witness when those who are in disagreement with one another make a point of offering each other the blessing of Jesus Christ. It is true that more than a few regularly shorthand the blessing, saying simply “Peace”. Yet, over time, we are coming to understand that the “Peace of Christ” is not so placid or calming as the word peace may imply (as in “I need some peace and quiet”). We are remembering that the risen Jesus offers his traumatized disciples his wounded hands in a blessing of shalom - of well-being - even as he calls them to join in his gospel ministry, placing themselves among the poor in spirit, the brokenhearted and the outcast. The “Peace of Christ” locates our bodies within the cruciform work of the Holy Spirit. In this way, our worship becomes an embodiment of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. In this way our worship becomes a training ground for discipleship when worship ends and we are sent to serve.
(from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)