If the gospel of Jesus has public implications, and not just private/interior ones, then our liturgical lives should reflect that. And if our church life is meant to be first-and-foremost local, then we should expect our particular locality to also have a big part in our liturgical life. Together, the local is the primary public arena for our life, worship, and liturgical rhythms.
What I’ve learned about the public implications of the gospel, though, usually have a lot to do with a national or global crisis – important issues like extreme poverty, climate change, and child soldiers. And accordingly I’ve seen such challenges be confronted by the gospel in prayer books, worship songs, response liturgies, and advocacy campaigns.
But I’ve not learned much about how to display, imagine, or express the gospel’s public implications at the local level. How do the assets and challenges, the saintliness and the sinfulness, of my neighborhood interact with the good news of Jesus’ risen regnancy? And how, when we hear the gospel’s summons to signpost new creation, can we think first of our own context and second of bigger global issues? Surely, after all, God’s shalom and justice have something to say to my block as well as Joseph Kony’s.
Tailoring our gospel imagination around our neighborhood will include “Sunday morning” activities which focus our hopes and laments on our own blocks. That’s where we at Springwater have found vitality in practicing an open time of “God-sighting’s” and “kingdom-sightings,” where we can point out where we saw Jesus Christ at work in one another and our neighborhood. Sometimes that’s as tiny as gratitude for a housemate doing more chores than usual, as staggering as a neighbor turning from addiction, as mystical as springtime birdsongs chirping God’s praise, and as concrete as a new crosswalk making it safer for kids to get to school.
We’re also in the midst of exploring how to follow the liturgical calendar in a way that tunes us to God’s story playing out among us. How might Lent be seen as a life coursing through our streets?
At Springwater this year we’ll be letting God’s work in our neighborhood take center stage for Holy Week in a participatory reflection on remembering, lamenting, and hoping. It will focus on interacting with a big butcher-paper map of our neighborhood spread across one wall of where we worship. Each day’s activity will link a thought or idea written on a note card to a specific location by way of a colored length of yarn.
Maundy Thursday – Seder Meal: As the Passover meal remembers God’s great deliverance in the Exodus story, we’ll remember the little exoduses of deliverance we’ve seen on our streets, at our jobs, and in our homes. Before and after the meal we are invited to make and geotag/yarn these memories of gratitude.
Good Friday – Lament Service: Usually we extinguish candles after reading laments, until the room is dark, remembering all the while the darkness of the world carried by Christ. Mingled with that activity we will post notecards of lament — where we have seen darkness and brokenness and fracture in our neighborhood. Though we seek an asset-based posture in life and ministry, we also create space in our liturgy and minds to be honest about the darker legacies of our neighborhood, and remember that Jesus has crippled that darkness on Golgotha.
Easter Sunday: After replacing invasive thistles with native plants in a nearby park, we’ll celebrate with food, music, and map-posting hopes for where resurrection and new creation can spring up in our neighborhood in the year to come.
In years past we’ve not always given much harmony between these three holy days, nor have we considered our neighborhood that much in their liturgies. But hopefully this map can be the thread that vivifies them all together, and reminds us of the locally-public nature of the gospel story that those holy days tell. In so doing, we can “re-place” liturgy’s summons to remember, lament, and hope in Jesus and for the world.
Next year I’d like to have a sidewalk-adjacent mural map of our neighborhood maintained year-round, and a similar set of cards, yarn, and liturgical prompts for neighbors to participate in seeing the biblical story play out on our streets. In doing so we all can remember that the gospel a local, public imperative. And we can do so in a way that gently invites neighbors to participate in imagining how that gospel story plays out.
How has your community involved your particular context in your liturgical and worship life?