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Christian Formation - Part of St. Mark Venice 1846 by John RuskenPlace and Memory, Time and Celebration

By Ben Menghini
Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministry

Greetings First Presbyterians,

First Presbyterian Church of Green Bay has had a lot to celebrate this Spring. On April 6 and 7 Kaylee Blade, Natalie Garthwaite, and Eli Solper took our Lord’s Table training and received their new bibles in worship. Three people took part in our new member class on April 14, and their membership will be celebrated in May.  Lent came to a close and on Easter Sunday we rejoiced in Christ’s resurrection. On April 28 our youth led our worship service, accompanied by the Dixieland band. Soon we will be celebrating our teachers and group leaders, recognizing our graduating seniors, and saying thank you and farewell to Rev. Randy and Ann Argall.

Even so, our Christian community at large suffered heartache in the midst of Holy Week. The son of a sheriff’s deputy in Louisiana was arrested and charged for burning down three black churches in an act of white supremacy. On Holy Monday Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire, causing extensive damage to the roof, though the structure remains standing.

All of this provokes us to think about important topics like sacred time and holy places, acts of memory and celebration.

A church and its worship is first and foremost about the people who participate in the worship and service of the community. Those gathered around the risen Christ are the true church, regardless of where or when they worship, how many there are, or what kind of music they sing. However, a building does have great significance, especially to those with a long connection to the building, who tie significant memories of their faith to their place of worship.

Notre-Dame speaks especially to this connection to place, as both one of the oldest, grandest, and most recognizable churches in Europe. Although it would be easy for an ascetic voice to decry the perceived opulence of a great cathedral, the overwhelming public support in the wake of the fire testifies to the building’s important role in connecting thousands of people to a sense of transcendence. William Dyrness notes that “these relics represented a sacred presence that lent gravity to the experience of worship…the church building itself was a kind of comprehensive symbol.”

We live in a world full of utilitarian and forgettable space, what some have termed “non-lieu” or non-places. Think of elevators, airports, waiting rooms, hotels. A vague sameness, easily confused with any other similar space, a lack of distinctiveness. In contrast, beautiful church buildings can stand out as a thin place where the everyday disappears and we feel a closer connection to the divine. Space, Robert Webber argues, needs to be redemptive space. It needs to reflect the work of salvation, which we celebrate. A place like Notre-Dame is a thin place because it contains so many memories, both personal and cultural, and caught up in the awe of the beauty, the memories can transport us out of the mundane.

The transcendence of worship spaces becomes even more potent when we recognize that they move with a different sense of time than the rest of the world. The church’s liturgical calendar dictates events and celebrations that, like beautiful buildings, can help us to escape the ordinary and enter into a different arrangement of priorities. As Webber notes, it is surprising how western protestants give so little attention to Holy Week, which represent the height of the church calendar, but often receive the lowest attendance. It is challenging to change our rhythms to live differently from everyone else.

The children in the Lord’s Table training recently learned that our practice of the great thanksgiving has a rhythm and a pattern, as a part of orderly worship, as does the church liturgical calendar that guides our seasons of worship. The Lord’s Supper is our ritual for remembering the life of Jesus and imagining his blessings in our lives. It brings together all of these symbols we have been discussing: time, place, memory, and celebration. Janet Walton says the Eucharistic “expresses the essence of the church, its identity with Jesus’ life, death, and rising. At the same time, it embodies its mission, to receive and share the gifts of God, to praise and offer thanks for them in and with Christ, empowered by the Spirit.”

A people who meet weekly in a place that connects them with a sense of the holy, with a unique sense of time, recalling the memory of Jesus, celebration of his life, even as they remember their own connection to this place and the celebrations they have shared. Gordon Lathrop, in his book on worship Holy Things says “a pool for washing, bread and wine for a meal—these are sacred things, drawing much of ourselves into the assembly, but they wait for something more. They need to be more than symbols of ourselves. They wait for the juxtaposition of a word.” Perhaps we can all recognize how these rituals, while important, even vital, are in themselves not enough.

It is that word, Jesus, the Word of God, which gives true meaning to our worship and life together. Jesus is himself that in-breaking of the divine, that connection to the holy that we experience in worship. In this time after Easter we declare Jesus risen from the dead, and we share our good news of a new and liberated creation with the world. A new place, a new sense of redeemed time, memories of a promise, celebration of our freedom.

In Christ’s peace,

Ben Menghini

(Image is Part of St. Mark Venice 1846 by John Rusken)

Last Published: April 21, 2019 10:43 AM