work FOR the people

“for” not “of”?

It is likely that one of the first “facts” you learned about “liturgy” was the meaning of the Greek word leitourgia:

the work of the people

Like many popular derivations of words, someone disassembled a word into its root forms: laos, the people and ergas, a work. Thus, liturgy must be “a work of the people.” Unfortunately, that’s not how the word was actually used. Leitourgia actually describes acts of public service, performed by private citizens at their own expense, such as building a bridge for the community, fixing a road, or building a civic structure. The meaning transfers to the work done by anyone in offering public service to the gods.

It’s not about us

One of the worst things that happened to Christian worship in the last century is the reversal of subject and object represented by this mistranslation: “work OF the people.” Liturgy is not about us; it is about God, and is an action we undertake for the transformation of the universe. As Paul put it in Romans, “Creation anxiously awaits the revealing of God’s children.” This work, accomplished by God’s work in us for God’s world is why we engage in liturgy. Worship is joining in God’s work for God’s people, recreating God’s universe. But it is more than crucial, given some unfortunate current trends in liturgical churches, to underscore that the “for” of this work is not something done by one part of the church (the clergy) for another (the laity), but rather a work done in and for the whole church by God, and a work done by the whole church for the life of the world around it.

work FOR the people

Walt’s blog picks up one of the meanings of an accurate definition of liturgy: “work FOR the people.” But just a bridge is only a pile of materials until people begin to use it, this particular work is only his nattering until you enter into the conversation. Join him there: “work FOR the people.”