In a weeks time I’ll be preaching on the public worship, welcoming the strangers into our church services, and the role of public worship in mission, so I might be blogging on this a few times during the week. But to start out, some experiences from yesterdays eucharist.

I wasn’t preaching, only attending church. I came late, which is not a funny thing in our congregation. I don’t understand it, but for some reason this community accept that a lot of people would only be coming in by 9 o’clock, which is the time the service is starting. When time came for the eucharist two things happened.

  • Where I sat, I could hear a dad and a child talking. The child was asking if he could join in the eucharist, but the dad said no. He said that the child could join when he was 16. In our congregation children are allowed to participate in the eucharist, although it’s still up to the parents.
  • Two rows in front of where I was sitting, a couple of children from the children’s home was sitting. They were about 9/10 years old, and when the wine came around, I could see that this was a big thing for them, and could just imagine little boys nudging each other about the fact that they are now going to drink some wine.

I wondered which was worse? The boys taking part in the eucharist, but not really understanding what it was about, or the little boy who wanted to take part, but who was excluded because he wasn’t old enough yet. I’m pretty sure the excluded boy is further from the intention of the eucharist than the boys taking part, but not yet understanding the theological significance and what have you…

But eucharist is always a very intense experience for myself. And this was no exception. As the bread passed over my lips, and the wine went down my throat, I started thinking about the meaning of this. “What did eucharist mean to me today?” And sitting there, what I experienced was the question where I would have stood at the crucifixion. Would I have been part of the crowd shouting “crucify him”, or part of the disciples crying over what was happening? Would I have cried about the one who came to preach an alternative society, a society totally different from what I was used to, radically accepting people, radically inclusive, radically equal, or would I have rather been part of the voice that said that Jesus is making things uncomfortable, so maybe we should dispose of him.

I don’t say this to point fingers. I think all of us at times isn’t comfortable with what Jesus preached. The message was so radical, and is “Jesus is Lord”, the implications for my life is so radical, that at times I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with it, it really makes me uncomfortable. Still there was room even for those who doubted, for those who weren’t yet comfortable with how Jesus were doing things, yes, even people like myself was part of the disciples.

Maybe that is part of the paradox of my existence. I identify myself with a community, with the narrative of Jesus, although I can’t say I’m the best example of how Jesus would have done things. I’m part of the alternative community Jesus preached, I believe, although I still find myself uncomfortable with the radicality of what he said at times. I’m part, even though I’m still being formed, but I’m formed by being part.

Could this be another example of thinking about an “already/not yet” eschatology? This is a subject I’ll maybe touch upon another time, but if you look at the work of David Bosch, you’ll find this way of looking at eschatology. The kingdom of God is already here, it is now, but there is also tension, because it’s not yet fulfilled, it is in process of becoming, and will only arrive in it’s fullness in the future. Myself? Well, I’m already here, I’m already part of the alternative community bringing the kingdom about, but I’m also being formed, in process of becoming the person which would follow Jesus through all the uncomfortable and radical ideas he presented, and if I keep the tension, then I’ll only be following the radical way of Jesus in the future. Always the paradox… always the tension…

emerging event at TUKS

October 23, 2007

TUKS mission is an organization that promote mission at the university of Pretoria. Most people, myself included, knew no more about TUKS mission than their yearly missions week, where they usually got some fancy preacher from America. I attended this event in my first year (2003), and the first evening of my second year, but then decided that this was the end. I couldn’t stand the people trying to manipulate everyone into going to faraway places to preach a gospel of sin management (to use the words of Dallas Willard). And what was more, I got fed up with the people they got to man all kinds of book stalls and stuff outside or in front of wherever they were meeting. I especially couldn’t see what the creationists had to do with missions.

OK, now I’ve got this of my chest, the secret is out, and everyone can know what I thought about these people. Then I saw a poster on campus a few days ago about an analogy meeting which would be held last night, and from what the poster said, I had this feeling that these people got some ideas from the alternative worship or emerging crowds, so I decided to give them a second chance. I told Maryke beforehand that if I get irritated, I’m just going to leave. I’ll leave them to do things their way, but I’m not going to attend just for the sake of attending.

But I was quite wrong! Waiting outside TUKS conference centre I noticed more people than I expected. Analogy isn’t the big missions week event held every year, but something new that got started by TUKS mission. I also noticed a number of first and second year theological students, which was something new. Usually the theological students don’t mix with the TUKS mission crowd, not that the theological students don’t like mission, they are very much involved with the outreach events from Universiteitsoord, but there has, since I can remember, been a major discomfort with the way TUKS mission did things, and the people they associate with.

OK, so we came into the conference centre, right outside the door was a table with coffee and tea. Inside there wasn’t any chairs, everyone sat on the ground, and the room was filled tight! The event started out with a home made video, that was done quite professionally (advantage of a student community), that showed some picture while a song played that I didn’t know. Then someone stood up and told us that we can stand up and get coffee at any stage in the meeting. There was a number of different voices that added to the event, reading poems, explaining things, or whatever.

We then watched a video from Special Assignment about child prostitution in Sunnyside, the area right beside the university. This was great! The move from talking about Afghanistan and the Muslim crisis in the mid-east to talking about the realities at our doorsteps, talking about the needs of people just a couple of blocks from us was great! Afterwards someone that work with these kids talked for too long, didn’t time her, but that was the one thing that could have been shorter. After her we had two homeless guys that formed a panel, they told their stories, and then we could ask them questions.

The evening ended of with a time of reflection, lying around on the carpet (at this stage some people had to go, so there was more room), while some poems was read. All in all, this was a good experience, and somehow, I’m not sure whether they were aware of this, they started doing that which many of us are talking about. The liturgy won’t be found in any textbook, but the evening was big on liturgy. There wasn’t a sermon, but you found theology. We didn’t know each others names, and there was no “let’s get to know each other” activity, but there was community.

our lovely liturgy

July 24, 2007

I’ve been having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the liturgy over the past few years. On the one hand I believe that our times of worship should become much more than preaching, and that preaching don’t even need to be the central element anymore. On the other hand I remember as a kid never understanding the liturgy, and even after 5 years of theological education, I’m struggling.

So, a few thoughts: I just had a class in liturgy, in which the lecturer presented us with what he see as the 3 main liturgical traditions.

1) Where the preaching of the Word (I guess some would say the Bible itself) is central. This is generally the mainline protestant churches: Reformes, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist etc. You will find the pulpit central in their church buildings.

2) Where participation is central. Genererally charismatic churches, Pentacostal, and African independent churches. In Western forms of these congregations you will find a stage being central, making room for more people than just the minister.

3) Where ritual and sacrament is central, meaning that the way in which we present God through these is more central than preaching. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (please let us know if this isn’t correct, Steve) and Anglican. The Altar would be central in these buildings.

For many reading this is would probably be general knowledge by now that you will lately find different traditions borrowing from each other.

Part of our theological education is that you have to hold one sermon which is attended by a lecturer and another minister, and then you have to sit through a critical discussion of the sermon afterwards. Not neccesarily a bad thing, but not genereally experienced very positively by students. I attended this discussion after one of my best friends sermon on Sunday.

There was a somewhat critical discussion on the liturgy, and after everything was over we continued the conversation, together with one of the local ministers. He said something interesting at one stage: In a lot of books you read today you will find people saying that the liturgy should change, but we seem so struggle to find concensus on what is supposed to happen. Fact is, I think we are experiencing a bit of a liturgucal crisis at the moment. At least in our congregations.

I don’t think I have the answers either, but one thought for now. I’ve experimented with this a few months ago while having a church service at Klein Kariba holiday resort. This whole rush, trying to fit in all 12 elements into every service is kind of getting on my nerves. And furthermore, I wonder theologically if it’s really a good idea to overemphasize this few elements, by repeating every Sunday that: You can’t keep to the law, you have sinned, but Jesus forgave your sins. Is this really that central to scripture that we, in a reformed tradition, should overemphasize it in our liturgy? How about taking one of these elements, or of many others which are available, and building our liturgy around this one elements, and really make something out of that?