Recently, I read an article which mentioned Pussy Riot, the Russian…well, Wikipedia describes them as a “feminist punk-rock collective.” That’ll do. Anyway. The article I was reading – here, on page 3 – brought into highlight the irony that although Pussy Riot got into so much trouble for protesting in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the Cathedral itself – and its liturgical life – ought to stand as protest against any human misuse of authority. That it does so at the moment apparently only by implication is a matter for prayer, but it doesn’t change the fact that acts in which a community of people so consciously and explicitly orient themselves to the reign of God ought to bear fruit beyond the limits of that communal celebration.
It left me wondering why Christians in my context so often seem reluctant to take up the prophetic mantle offered to them. Are we too individualistic, understanding what we do in public worship as a private transaction between each person and God, with no implications for communal and social life? Perhaps that’s a problem too (individualism is a bugbear of mine).
But another piece of reading provided a different insight. Christopher Cocksworth and Rosalind Brown, in their book “Being a Priest Today” make the observation that “Perhaps the hardest challenge for the presider” (at the Eucharist) “is to keep people’s hearts open to the challenge of Christ’s invitation to share his life and his work.”
And it seems to me, as I ponder that, that there’s something here about the way so many of us compartmentalise our lives. There’s the professional role, and the relational roles as spouse/parent/sibling/friend, and perhaps an online persona or two, and so forth. And to that, the devout believer might add the role of churchgoer. Might join the congregation, volunteer in some capacity, chat with others over a cup of tea after the service, and see that as totally separate from any other part of his or her life.
There’s a problem with that. It misunderstands what it really means to be Church, to be the people called out of the world to participate in the mission of God. It also, then, misunderstands the Church’s acts of public worship. They’re not meant to be a segregated holy hour or so during the week (or even daily for the devout). They’re meant to be a constant thread interwoven with all the other elements of life; and the things which we say and do in worship, the God to whom we commit ourselves and by whom we are refashioned, are meant to shape all that we do beyond the times and places set aside for “church.” They also provide a standard for a sharp critique of all the other areas of our lives.
We have three options when confronted by that critique. We can ignore it (this seems a popular choice). We can avoid it, rationalising the evils and injustices of society. Or we can embody it. We can live and act and speak such that there is no doubt that the reign of God relativises all other claims to authority. Ultimately, it is our choice. Nobody is holding a gun to our heads, and forcing us to find the courage, faithfulness and integrity to really live as our acts of worship imply that we will. But if we don’t, we should not be surprised to find that a bunch of angry secular activists seem to know more about the imperatives of the gospel than we do.