Posted on: October 8th, 2009 Renewing the Festive Center (again)

This, below, is a piece I wrote for the monthly newsletter of St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, where I am currently serving as Assistant (to the) Rector.


At the center of our insanely hectic lives, there must be leisure. In the middle of our mechanistic, frenetic modern world there must be festivity. At the heart of our active church, at the foundation of our busy families, there must be deep rest. There must be, that is, if we are going to survive.

We must, individually and corporately, renew the festive center, by which I mean that, instead of allowing the “microwave culture” (a phrase of Rev. Mary’s which I heard her utter within five minutes of meeting her) in which we live to crowd out life as it was meant to be lived, we must put “first things first.” We must “begin with the end in mind.” (Yes, I am appealing to all you Stephen Covey types.)

And what is our end? The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) describes it as “enjoying God forever.” Does that sound restful to you? If not, if it sounds boring or scary, then you might be misunderstanding the nature of the God we worship.

The classical Christian tradition of virtue (which baptizes and builds upon the life and practice of the likes of Plato and Aristotle, who lived in 5th century Athens) puts this same idea in terms of the beatific vision, in which humanity will one day participate in the very life of the Trinity in ways that we cannot now begin to imagine. Remember that, even though God does not have a body, this does not mean that God is less than embodied, but rather infinitely more: God so radically transcends our material world and existence (since they cannot begin to contain God) that it is accurate to say that he does not have a body.

The divine, infinite life of that community of persons called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is described by theologians as a dance. (Sounds festive, does it not?) This dance is not just movement (though it does include something like that) but rather all kinds of loving, relational dynamics that we cannot imagine. Suffice to say that they greatest party you have ever experienced (complete with all the “fun stuff” you experienced at that party) pales in comparison.

What’s crazy about this picture is that, according to classical Christian theology, this dance is what we are invited into, and we are invited into it now.

Learning this divine dance is what we are doing in the liturgy. To quote Peter Leithart (from Against Christianity),

Worship trains us in the steps for walking, for dancing rightly through life. Christian cult trains us in the protocols of life in the presence of God, and thereby, since all life is in the presence of God, acclimates the worship to Christian culture…. Christian ritual displays the world how we believe and hope it will be one day. Ritual displays to public view who goes where,how each of us fits into the whole, how the members of the body are knit into one while remaining many, how the melodic lines of each individual life harmonize into a communal symphony…. Through the rituals of worship, we begin to realize together who we are together: of course we are a sinful people who needs to break away from the world, to make a weekly Exodus from Egypt; of course we are an ignorant people who needs to be instructed and reminded each week of our language and our story; of course we are the children of the Heavenly Father, who has given all things freely in Hin Son and displays that gift in the gift of food; of course, we have been ingrafted into the community of the Trinity, for each worship service begins and ends in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and ends with the triune name spoken over us.

Is this how you imagine and understand what we do every Sunday morning at St. Richard’s? Here is true festivity and true rest.


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