All of Life is Liturgical—Doug McKelvey's Foreword to Every Moment Holy Vol. 3
[Editor's note: This fall, Rabbit Room Press is releasing the third volume in the Every Moment Holy Series. This post is the foreword to Volume 3.]
It is a point of discussion in some theological circles whether the Greek word leitourgia—from which we get our word liturgy—is most accurately translated as “the work of the people” or “the work for the people.” I would suggest there might be ample room in the word to encompass both meanings.
Because what Christ has done for his people, and what we, as his body are to be about in response, are—together—from beginning to end, the work of Jesus for, and in, and through his people.
Jesus has done a good work for us.
The Holy Spirit is doing a good work in us.
And God equips and calls each of us to go out and do good works,
works that he has prepared in advance for us to do,
and that he alone, by his power and his Spirit,
will bring to completion through us.
In this sense, for the child of God, all of life ought to be seen as liturgical, because every part of life is meant to be lived as a facet of our unceasing labor of worship. Our relationships with spouses, parents, children and friends, our caretaking, our town planning, our artmaking, our storytelling and music making, our gardening and governing, our baking, our tending and maintenance of things, our greetings and our goodbyes, our learning and studying, our eating and drinking, our contemplations of truth and beauty and the natural world, our labor and leisure, our love, our hope, our loneliness and fear and discouragement and loss and grief, our repentances and forgivenesses, our hardships and celebrations—all these parts of life are to be lived in view of the work of Christ for us, and in willing surrender to—and participation in—the ongoing work of Christ in and through us.
And herein lies the great mystery of the church. God does not need us. He could accomplish his labors by divine fiat. Yet it is his good pleasure to labor through us. And this despite our many foibles and failings. He doesn’t need our prayers. Yet he moves in response to them. He doesn’t need our acts of mercy, compassion, and generosity, yet he chooses to display his own heart through them. He doesn’t need our strengths. Yet he displays his strength in our weaknesses. He doesn’t need any of our creative works, our sacrifices, or our service. Yet he invites each of us to play some part in the outworking of his redemptive plan for his kingdom, his people, and his creation. He certainly doesn’t need our friendship. Fullness of love and delight exist eternally within the triune godhead. Yet he calls and draws and welcomes us into relationship with himself, and by so doing, he also beckons us into a richness of relationship with one another in the family of God.
So perhaps we could look at it this way: The essential liturgy, the leitourgia of Jesus, the work for the people, the work of the One for the many, is the great overture of God. But in light of that great work undertaken on our behalf, we are invited to participate in the liturgical response of the work of the people, which is also the work of the One through the many. And even these works, accomplished through us, are still the ongoing work of Christ for the many, for it is he who is the head of his people, the church, and he who labors through us to accomplish his ends in culture, in the creation, and across the span of history.
Every Moment Holy, Volume III, is the fruit of labors undertaken by many in glad response to the work for the people accomplished by our Lord, and in the good hope that what we would create together might in some sense truly become along the way a work of the people, the process nudged and guided by God’s Spirit, the end result offered to Christ that he might bless, multiply, and distribute it as he would, for the nourishment of many.
Every Moment Holy, Volume I was penned over the span of a year in 2016-17. EMH Volume II (which focused on themes of death, grief, and hope) was a two-year writing endeavor. Community served to shape those prayers in ways that were significant and necessary, but the actual writing of those books was a solitary labor.
This Volume III, though, was conceived as an explicit labor of community from beginning to end. More than sixty authors, poets, and songwriters were invited to contribute original prayers, and seven artists were invited to create the accompanying prints. Some are names readers will recognize. Others might be encountered here for the first time. Some are emerging talents in their mid-twenties, with much work before them. Others are more seasoned creators, journeying even well into their nineties, who already have a great body of work behind them. Most authors are contemporary, but some are followers of Jesus who lived decades, hundreds, or even more than a thousand years ago. We are particularly pleased to offer here for the first time in print, three prayers penned by Dorothy Sayers—prayers only recently uncovered in a library archive.
Sometimes it is a great encouragement simply to learn that the things we struggle with or delight in today are the same for another, even if they might have lived in some other part of the world long ago. The kinship and fellowship of the family of God extends across time, as does the consolation and encouragement we might offer one another.
Who knows? Perhaps in a few hundred years some of the newer prayers and illustrations in this book, so lovingly crafted by these authors and artists in hopes of serving the church, will still be circulating in some form, offering solace, direction, encouragement, or insight to pilgrims who today are not yet born, articulating the cries of their hearts in a way that makes them pause and say “Wait, how could they have known, so long ago, what I would feel today?”
But the ways in which these prayers circulate and serve the Body of Christ, where and for how long, are not in our hands. All we can do is offer the fruits of this labor to God, to use as he pleases, for his good glory. The work of the people is, after all, from start to finish the work of our Lord through his people, as all of us are called into this great project of divine redemption, called to live and love and labor for the good of our neighbors, for the glory of God, and for the advance of his kingdom as it is worked out across every square foot of creation, in and through every people group, across all vocations and callings and fields of study and labor, across the span of time and history, in every relationship, in joy and in sorrow, in work and rest and play, in all our hours, in every moment.
The advance of Christ’s blessed kingdom, even in this age between his first and second advents, is a thing we are always to be about individually and collectively—many parts, one body; each of us laboring unto the same good end, encouraging, equipping, and cheering one another on.
Our hope is that our collective labors to build this book will resound to the praise and glory of Christ who is ever at work, laboring for and in and through his people.
Douglas Kaine McKelvey
Conon Bridge, Scotland,
Conon Hotel, Room 9
7 June 2023