Posted on: May 17th, 2010 Questioning our Worship (V): Why so many words?

This is part 5 of a 10-part series.

One of my favorite movies, and one of the ones I love to watch with my six year old daughter, is The Neverending Story. I love this film because in it, the main character, a little boy who simultaneously longs for and fears adventure, listens, night after night, to his grandpa reading a story to him. It is a story about flying dragons, enchanted castles, and many more wonderful things. What is so interesting, though, is that at some point during his enjoyment of this story, he actually gets “sucked into” the story itself, and becomes a character on the inside of this narrative world, right alongside the dragons and other magical creatures.

Now, something very much like this is what happens in the Christian life. You are brought up as a young person in a secular culture and you might have an awareness of the Bible, but it is just a static book over there on the shelf, whereas you, on the other hand, are a real person in the real world of televisions, automobiles, etc.

But then, at some point, it gradually dawns on you that the story-world of the Bible is what is actually real.

It is the liturgy of the Church (through which the Holy Spirit works) which prompts this epiphany, this shift in consciousness. My favorite example of this shift – a reality which the Church calls anamnesis – is the Prayer of Thanksgiving over the waters of Baptism (BCP 306): “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water…. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise.” In this prayer, we realize that these baptismal waters are the same waters as the ancient Red Sea, just as they are also the same waters as those of Noah’s flood (see I Peter 3:18-22). This shift of consciousness, this getting-in-touch with true narrative reality, is anamnesis, the “re-membering” of the narrative of Holy Scripture*. (We could multiply examples of this from our Eucharistic prayers, as well.)

St. Paul’s theology, shot through all of his epistles, is also about this “remembering.” Over and over again Paul encourages the Church to realize that we are “members of Christ’s Body,” that in his death we have died, and that in his resurrection we have risen to new life. Christ’s narrative draws us in; we are now inside the Story. We are living inside the Paschal Mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is exactly what is going on in the Creed, which occurs immediately after the Scriptures and the Gospel are proclaimed and interpreted. The Creed is not an expression of our private beliefs; it is our narrative world, our world of words, in which we live and move (note: we sign ourselves with the sign of the Cross during the Creed) and have our being. It is more real than TV’s and cars and

Why are there so many words and sentences and paragraphs and texts – so much reading and talking – in our worship? I hope you can see why. We have a rich and interesting story, a story of words which culminate in the Word Made Flesh, Jesus.

But, more to the point, it is a story that we don’t simply “have.” It is a story in which we live.

* This word anamnesis occurs in Luke 22:19 and I Corinthians 11:22-23, accounts of Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.

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2 Responses to “Questioning our Worship (V): Why so many words?”

  1. Libby Says:
    May 27th, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Very cool.
    Could you give a couple examples of pre-20th century theologians who have used this word?
    This reminds me of how I think about the creation story. I now (still grudgingly) accept evolution, but Gen. 1-3 has far more meaning for me than evolution. Gen. 1-3 is what I remember when I think about the human condition. Is anamnesis relevant to the role that the creation story plays in the lives of Christians like me?

  2. matt Says:
    June 2nd, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Libby, Other than St. Paul, I am not sure, but I am sure that many or most Gk speaking theologians did. Your questions is kind of like asking, “What premodern theologians used the term _koinonia_?” It is such a foundational term in the NT and subsequent theology, it’s not like it is a special term that is used only by certain schools of thought … our unfamiliarity with it notwithstanding.

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