The American Liturgy On Display

superbowl 50

Americans have a liturgy.

Matter of fact, today is a major marker in the liturgical calendar of the American story. We call it the Super Bowl. In fact, this is the 50th annual premier football event, holding a most dear place within the American liturgical calendar.

But what is liturgy?

Liturgy is the given practices, or story-markers, within a particular setting given to shape the hearts, minds, and bodies of the people toward the things we believe are good and right.

In a Christian context, when we gather together on Sundays (or whichever day), we instill certain practices that help mold us into the image of God and his kingdom. We worship together in song; we read and hear the word of holy scripture proclaimed; we ingest the body and blood of our Lord through the bread and wine; we offer prayers, whether crafted or spontaneous.

We participate in a host of activities to in order to see transformation take place.

Even the most non-traditional, “free” church has their own liturgical practices. To simply allow for complete freedom and space within a church gathering (which I don’t have a problem with, per se) is to set a regular practice in place in order that the hearts, minds and bodies of the congregants be shaped according to God’s good character.

In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, Jamie Smith talks about how we are affectionate, desiring, liturgical beings. And so we are constantly having our hearts, our internal “guts,” formed by the things we dearly love.

In a sense, we might say liturgy is literally everywhere we turn, forming us on a consistent basis.

And these kinds of life-shaping rituals can be found in the most unexpected places in our culture, like the Super Bowl.

We will gather this evening in homes across the nation. There will be family and friends; there will be pizza, wings, chips and dip, desserts, and a host of other foods. There will be beer of all sorts. There will be men interested in both game and commercials. There will be women primarily interested in the commercials (or perhaps the game as well). There will be men and women interested in watching Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars perform at the elaborate halftime show. There will be cheers, grunts, high-fives, cussing, laughs, and perhaps even tears.

Our church gatherings have family, food, drink, music, message, emotions, responses, etc. They’re all directed to form us in the ways of Christ.

The Super Bowl has very similar things. An annual event given to shape the hearts, minds, and even bodies of people in the American way.

Perhaps you never thought of the Super Bowl in this way. What is more scary is when those unaware rituals fashion us in ways that are quite anti-God.

I’m not dismissing the Super Bowl altogether, nor the activities that go along with it. Though in a more low-key setting this year (with Dad and DiGiorno pizza), I’ll be watching the game, the commercials, and the halftime show. But I’m aware that the Super Bowl is ultimately a liturgical marker within the American storyline, an event that will look to form us through all 5 senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste.

Even more, it will try and shape us in ways quite opposite to the kingdom of God – just watch the commercials, watch the half-time show, watch the players “mojo,” and more. A story will be told, one that won’t be neutral.

Enjoy the time with family and friends. Enjoy the spread of food. Enjoy a drink or two. Watch the commercials. Cheer for your team, if they’re playing. Yet, perhaps, be aware of the story being crafted tonight.

And as we launch into our gatherings today as the people of God, let us consider how we can be more intently shaped by another storied liturgy, one that’s been going on much, much longer than 50 years of Super Bowl games. Let us see our whole selves formed as we come together to both tell and listen to the story that’s been going on from the beginning.

Which liturgical storyline will transform us most today?

The Jesus storyline or the American storyline.

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