Our children love to hear us tell stories. Stories really are the language of home. Home movies, scrapbooks, Shutterfly books and the like all tell a part of our family histories. On their birthday we always sit down and tell each child the story of their birth– the anticipation we felt as new parents, the sudden dash to the hospital and all of the events surrounding their homecoming to awaiting siblings and family. They love to hear that they are part of the larger story itself. At bedtime during family vacation, when cousins are all together, our kids beg for stories about when my sisters and I were little girls. They hoot and holler to hear about the scrapes we got ourselves into and the antics we didn’t get away with! They never grow tired of hearing the same ones over and over though I may grow tired of telling them.
As humans, we were made for stories and God Himself is the ultimate author, weaving an intricate plot-line through each of our lives. Yet even greater, we are part of a larger narrative- one that began with Adam and grew even more intense with the second Adam, Jesus.
As believers, little children of God, our inner being longs to hear the story told and know that we are part of the telling. We thrill to know, just as my children do in hearing the stories of their birth, that we are a part of a family history. Our names are in the Book.
In fact, the weekly time we gather together with other saints is precisely so that we can sit close to one another and beg to hear the story again- to be reminded of Abraham’s faith, of the Exodus out of Egypt, of the way Joshua conquered and the Judges ruled. We come together to hear, once again, of how the prophets foretold the Messiah’s coming and then how the angel visited Mary; to hear tell how Jesus “went about preaching teaching and healing all were oppressed of the devil for God was with Him.” Above all we wait to hear our favorite part- the part where we come into the story and realize that Jesus shed his blood for us and that forgiveness is ours.
Every Sunday, whether we realize it or not, we are gathering to hear a story. Like all family stories, it is made even more delightful by the fact that it really happened and, in fact, is still going on today. We need to hear this story told, over and over, as it reminds us of who we are. Just as the stories our children hear told remind them of the larger family history they are a part of, so the Gospel reminds us of a larger tapestry that our lives are being woven into as well– A true tapestry that results in a picture of the family of God.
But our kids are rarely satisfied with one telling of the story. If they heard it last night, they still want to hear it again. It’s a great story! So we tell it over and over, adding a few details and revealing a bit more each time. Sometimes we shorten it up because we are sleepy but they know it better than we do at this point so they will stop us and make us go back and fill in the missing parts because they long to hear it all.
In our homes, we should be telling the Gospel story over and over as well. One day a week isn’t enough to satisfy. Our children want to and need to hear it told over and over again. The more we tell it, the more of a desire Once Upon a Time they develop for it and they learn to long for every detail and every thrilling part to be told.
This is liturgy- the repetitive “telling” of the scriptures day in and day out.
The story is told as we read the Psalms in the morning to them, pray over the food at breakfast, gather for communion as a family or light the advent wreath at Christmas. They understand the details of the story a little more as we pray a blessing over them before they leave in the mornings or admit to our children that we were wrong about something and ask for their forgiveness.
But there is another key to our stories. How we tell these stories is as important as the stories themselves. The best stories are usually told snuggled up under a big blanket together. There may be elements that we can hold and take together- hot chocolate with popcorn or milk and cookies. The overhead lights may be dimmed and candles flicker throughout the worshipful space. The story may play out on a screen in front of us or be told from memory or read from a book. We all enjoy it more for the atmosphere it is told in. We touch and taste and feel; we smell the incense of home and the story is made more memorable and our hearts long for this moment over and over again. This is living liturgy.
For centuries this is what the ancient orders of worship in the oldest of cathedrals attempted to do with their lovely stained glass images and their beautiful woodwork. In the smells and the bells among the flicker of candles revealing exquisite architecture there was always the intent to draw the worshiper in and create an atmosphere fitting for the greatest story ever told.
What stories are we hearing each week? Do we still hear the bells? Do our homes ring out a narrative that Netflix could never rival? Here are some thoughts for bringing liturgy to life in the places we call home:
- Take communion together in a beautifully cultivated atmosphere.
- Read from the Book of Common Prayer one of the selections for morningsong or evensong depending on the time of day.
- Diffuse essential oils and enjoy singing a hymn or worship song together. Pray together in the beautiful atmosphere you have created.
- Read the gospels with the same treatment as preparing to watch your favorite film or read from your favorite family book. With chocolate in hand, discuss your favorite part and dissect the characters involved in the book of Acts with your teen with the same gusto as you did after viewing The Hunger Games.
- Bake cookies and then read a Psalm of Thanksgiving together before digging in. Liturgy doesn’t have to be synonymous with rigidity- on the contrary. Engage every sense to create a lasting longing in your children’s hearts for this moment to be repeated again next week!
- Incorporate the colors and readings of Advent into your Christmas celebration. Do the same in the spring for Lent. Spring clean and discuss the way 2000 years ago God prepared to make all things new and clean through the resurrection of Christ.