Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Loving God Through the Liturgy

As I have mentioned before, I have made it a practice to include the singing of the Wesley hymns during Morning Prayer. I have found Wesley Hymns, edited by Ken Bible and published by Lillenas Publishing Co. (Nazarene Publishing House), to be a most convenient resource. While it only includes 164 of the Wesley hymns, it is much easier to carry about than the 848 pages of the seventh volume of The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley: A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodist. Perhaps, at some point, I will go back to singing through that volume, but, as I have said, Ken Bible's book is much more convenient.

Well, during Morning Prayer, this morning, one of the hymns I sang was Charles Wesley's, O My All-sufficient God. The song is quite short; only one verse. Below the hymn was a quote from John Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. The two, together, make a great reminder for those of us who love the beauty of the liturgy.

The hymn says:

O my all-sufficient God,
Thou know'st my heart's desire;
Be this only thing bestowed;
I nothing else require,
Nothing else in earth or skies,
Not through all eternity;
Heav'n itself could not suffice;
I seek not Thine, but Thee.

And John's quote is as follows:

"One design you are to pursue to the end of time, the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever you desire or fear, whatever you seek or shun, whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, or your being."

It happens, occasionally, that there will be those who love the liturgy so much that they end up "worshipping worship" rather than God. They come to love the liturgy more than the God whom the liturgy proclaims. Oh, to be sure, this is not just a problem of the "High Church" crowd. The "Low Church" bunch are also susceptible. They, at times, become so caught up in music or the excitement or the "feeling" of their services of worship that they, too, end up "worshipping worship."

Addressing this very thing, John Wesley wrote, "The nature of religion is so far from consisting in . . . forms of worship, or rites and ceremonies, that it does not properly consist in any outward actions of what kind so ever" (Works Bicentennial 1:219). - Left alone, that quote might give one the impression, then, that the form of worship was entirely unimportant for Wesley. However, such a conclusion would be very far from the truth.

Rather, if one does not mistake "the means for the end" (which is the key point!), then, according to Wesley, Christians should "use all outward things; but use them with a constant eye to the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness" (545). The "end," as indicated above, is God! The hymn and the quote, above, remind us that the liturgy only points us to the God whom we must seek and love with our whole being.

To that end, Wesley says of the liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer, "I believe that there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England" (from the Preface of The Sunday Service). And the chief means of grace, as found in the liturgy, is the blessed sacrament of The Lord's Supper.

Charles Wesley writes:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
and through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.

2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.

3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.

4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.

And yet, as the hymn indicates, the object is not the Eucharist, but God. Glory is given to God. In the Eucharist we feed on the Lord.

Therefore, the love of the liturgy and the sacraments, for the true "High Churchman," are a matter of "loving the creature," so to speak, "as it leads to the Creator." It is in the liturgy that we corporately show forth our love to God, and God's presence is manifested to us, especially in the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

1 comment:

Eric + said...

Come on... do you really expect me to believe that Wesley thought the Holy Communion was vastly superior to fasting, praying, and hearing the word proclaimed?