We saw last week that in order to counteract the negative effects of worldly liturgies, the liturgies of our churches must be shaped by Scripture.
So let us specifically consider the liturgies in Scripture for a moment. The Mosaic Law is filled with them, and these liturgies help us to see both the purpose of liturgy and how one should be formed. In particular, the liturgies of Scripture illustrate what is the seventh key point of this paper: biblical liturgies shape the people of God through reenactment of what God has done. In this way biblical liturgy is not our work toward God; rather, it is God’s work upon us. God prescribed for Israel a liturgical year that shaped their relationship with him by reenacting the covenant that he had established with them and the ways in which he had redeemed them. This is a stark difference between biblical liturgies and pagan liturgies. Pagan liturgies involve rituals designed to attract a god’s attention and manipulate him to do something for the worshiper. Biblical liturgies rehearse what God has already done in order that the worshiper’s affections and life might be formed and shaped.
Let us review a few examples in Israel’s liturgical year. The Sabbath itself was a regular reenactment of God’s rest on the seventh day of Creation, and as Jesus later indicated, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27) in order to shape him into a certain kind of person. The most holy of days for Israel was the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). This Feast Day contained a very carefully prescribed liturgy that pictured spiritual realities through reenactment. The cleansings, the sacrifices, the sprinkling of blood, the scapegoat all formed the people through their participation into those who recognized the holiness of God, the horrors of sin, and the necessity of atonement.
Or consider the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread. Again, this feast had a carefully prescribed liturgy that shaped the people by their participation in it. It was a reenactment of the historical event of the first Passover, and this is exactly why liturgies are so powerful; by reenacting these events, a person is formed as if he had been there himself. In Exodus 12:14, God called the feast a “memorial,” which is more than simply a passive recollection of something. A memorial is a ritual reenactment by which a person enters into the past event and is thus shaped by it. Fifteen hundred years later, while celebrating the Passover memorial himself, Jesus Christ established a new ordinance, complete with a carefully prescribed liturgy, and commanded his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This anamnesis—this “remembrance”—is an active reenactment of the death of Christ on behalf of his people in such a way that we are shaped by the act.
These are just a few examples, but they serve to illustrate the point that biblical liturgies should reenact God’s work for his people and thereby form his people into those whose lives are driven by a recognition of what he has done for them.