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A BEACON OF LIGHT
Change and Transformation – The Revd Benjamin Jarvis
This article was written by the Revd Benjamin Jarvis, who is covering all things Liturgy-related until September when Canon Clare MacLaren returns from sabbatical. It was first published in the July 2022 edition of Link, the monthly newspaper for the Diocese of Newcastle
I’m new at the Cathedral and only here temporarily covering all things to do with the liturgy (the worship) of the Cathedral while Canon Clare is on sabbatical.
I’ve been learning since I arrived about the Cathedral’s core principles. Regular readers (and those who are familiar with the work of the cathedral in Newcastle) will know all about its tenets of ‘Radical Welcome’, ‘Empowering Worth’ and ‘Inspiring Worship’. Here the Christian liturgy sits alongside welcome and worth as one element of the Cathedral’s work and mission.
This week I have been preparing for the Cathedral to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of the Eucharist, and through my preparations, I’ve been reflecting on some of the ways in which our liturgy sits alongside the outreach and mission of the Cathedral as a tool for welcome and transformation.
Christianity in all its varieties shares a common tradition of gathering on Sundays – indeed every day in many places – for corporate prayer, praise and petition for the world and for each individual, and the breaking of bread. Although the structure of the worship assembly may differ from church to church, nearly all share common elements.
In coming together for worship, we are ourselves gathering in search of a new world – a transformation. When we hear reading from Scripture, for instance, we hear of a world of hope in the face of death; of reconciliation for the sinner and healing for those who are ill; love and redemption for the Earth and its people, especially those outcast by society. We are invited to participate in the Eucharist, called to become one body by the sharing of one bread – incorporated into the body we consume.
Because participation in the liturgy engages our whole person, it has great potential to change us. We take in that world not just with our minds, but also with our senses. The sounds, the smells, the sights of the liturgy have profound effects upon our life. We don’t just give voice to our belief that the cross of Christ is a sign of salvation; we sign ourselves repeatedly with our hands, with oil or with ashes. We sing the meaning of Christmas and Easter with hymnody that sounds through our body in ways that speaking alone cannot do.
When we offer bread and wine for the Eucharist, we remind ourselves that God works with us through physical realities. We come as we are, but are offered a change, a transformation. As bread and wine are transformed, ordinariness is transformed in us too, and we are formed, little by little, into the likeness of Christ.
It is Christ that welcomes us all to feast at his table, and it is Christ that invites us to be formed into his body – no matter what our starting point.
And so, the ‘Radical Welcome’ and ‘Empowering Worth’ of the cathedral are not separate from the liturgical life of the Cathedral. Because it is also through our participation in liturgy that all people are welcomed; crucially, met where we are and as we are; and offered transformation.
Change is not just for others. Change is not just something we wish on other people – the poor, the needy, the addicted. We all are called to change and transformation, and our liturgy is leading us through it.