SEARCH Journal

Liturgica: Us and Them

WHO or what do you first think of when you think of “us and them”? Protestant and Catholic? Liberal and conservative? Republic and realm? What about Christian and Jew, especially when news headlines more often speak of tensions between Muslims and Jews? These questions all point to the continued divisions we live with in church, community, and world. What, however, do they have to do with Christian liturgy?

Too often our prayers, hymns, and songs perpetuate divisions between “us” and “them.” Our liturgies provide images of Jewish promise and Christian fulfillment, especially evident in the Old Testament and Gospel pairings in the common lectionary during the Advent and Christmas seasons; of the first covenant being perfected in or by the second; of Christian displacing or superseding Jew; of unending Jewish culpability in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The latter becomes especially evident during Holy Week in hymns and songs that lead us to sing “they crucified my Lord.” The liturgical challenges are many.

Consider, then, the ways in which our witness to the God of Israel and Jesus Christ is incomplete, perhaps even unfaithful, when we deny the history of the Jewish people. Consider how our prayers are “deformed” when our vision of the heavenly Jerusalem is limited to the Church and excludes Israel, when our vision of that city separates “us” from “them,” and how such a vision further separates the redeemed from the unredeemed, the included from the excluded. Consider how our identity as people of faith is diminished when the meaning we attribute to our liturgical and sacramental celebrations does not bear witness to the significance of Jesus Christ as the one who comes as a Jew to Israel, for the sake of Israel’s and, by adoption, our redemption.

* Full article available in printed copies.

E. Byron Anderson

A former President of Societas Liturgica, is Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, USA, and a presbyter in The United Methodist Church.