By THE REV. JASON A. BURNS
Deacon, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton
Published: 9/9/2022 10:33:21 AM, Modified: 9/9/2022 10:33:00 AM
Before the second agricultural revolution, virtually every person had a role to play in their own survival and that survival was linked directly to the growing season. In the spring you planted the fields, in the summer you tended them, in the fall you harvested, and in the winter you did more specialized work and waited for the next growing season.
The church tapped into this cycle and strategically planned the church year to follow this pattern so that our bodily and spiritual lives would be in sync. Easter coincided with the spring fertility festivals, which is why the bunny and egg became associated with the holiday. Christmas coincided with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was a festival of lights celebrated on the shortest day of the year to remind people that the days would be growing longer and the season of growth and new life was coming. Lent, a season of reflection and penance, coincided with the winter months because the natural cycle of plants and animals requires a period of rest before they are ready to bring forth new life.
As western society moved away from subsistence living, it became much more difficult to integrate our faith life with our daily life because our daily tasks no longer matched the teachings of the church. It is easy to make the connection between resurrection and the growth of flowers and veggie plants; it is not so easy to link resurrection with proms and baseball.
Liturgy is the fancy church word for what we do together on Sunday morning, but it has a much deeper meaning that has basically been forgotten. The root meaning of the word liturgy is “the work of the people.” So liturgy is not just the prayers we say together on Sunday morning, it is the work that we do, collectively and individually, to draw closer to God. As our daily lives are no longer intimately connected with our faith life, the question is how can we achieve a connection to God while worrying about prom dresses and spring training? Well, the short answer is to just do it; but as that is less than helpful, let’s explore a little bit.
The first step is to acknowledge that we need to repent, which is another fancy church word that simply means “to change our thinking.” We need to be willing to think about God at times other than Sunday morning, which would likely require a conscious decision for most of us. As we race through the day, leaping from one task to the next, it can be incredibly difficult to keep the presence of God in the forefront of our minds. Medieval peasants had the advantage of having the church telling them about the resurrection of Jesus at the same time that they were watching their crops — which was literally the food that would keep them alive — pop through the dirt. While living a God-centered life is difficult, it is not impossible and it can be done simply. It can be smiling to ourselves with gratitude as the sun warms our face; it can be thinking fondly of a lifelong friend as we clean out a bookcase; it can be sharing a quiet moment with someone in pain; and it can be pausing for 20 seconds to acknowledge the presence of God in our lives.
While our daily lives may no longer be tied directly to the rhythm of the church year, that doesn’t mean that we are not engaging in liturgy on a daily basis. So as summer turns to fall, as the temperatures begin to drop and as the crops begin to yield to their natural cycle, I encourage us all to think about the liturgy of our lives. Where is God in the ups and downs of the day?