“We lift them up to the Lord.”
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”
“It is right to give thanks and praise.”
These are ancient words that many Christians share across denominations, traditions and time. The “official” title for this is Sursum corda and you can read a bit about its history here. These words begin prayer. sometimes the prayer is the Great Thanksgiving, sometimes it is a non sacramental prayer of thanksgiving.
“Lift up your hearts.” Today we tend to connect the heart with emotion and feelings- Heart felt. Heart break. Heart wrenching. Hearts overflowing. But in the ancient world, in addition to emotion and feeling, the heart was the source of wisdom and thought. The heart was the place decisions were made. To speak of the heart was to speak of the entire person. So to lift up our hearts is to give God the whole of ourselves.
I read an author once, who suggested that we shouldn’t so much lift up our hearts as fling them towards heaven.* Sometimes I sit in the first row of the balcony in my church and I imagine everyone seated below reaching into their jackets and flinging red Frisbee like hearts up into the air. Of course the Frisbee hearts don’t fall back down to the pews, the hearts are lifted up into heaven, taken into the presence of the Triune God.
I don’t know too many Christians who think about being lifted up into God’s presence during worship. We tend to speak more about God coming to us. While God does come to us in the Incarnation and daily in our lives, in worship the movement is the other way. Theologians as diverse as the protestant reformer John Calvin and orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann agree on this point.
Schmemann writes in For the Life of the World,
The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the kingdom. …[O]ur entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world. … The liturgy begins then as a real separation from the world…. (26-27)
To leave, to come….This is the beginning, the starting point of the sacrament, the condition of its transforming power and reality. (28)
From the beginning the destination is announced: the journey is to the Kingdom. This is where we are going– and not symbolically, but really. (29)
The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone; what “happens” to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have “constituted” the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine. (37)
I know, that’s pretty dense, it is a lot of theology, particularly for some of us protestants, especially on an August afternoon. But I think Calvin and Schmemann are right. In worship, ordinary space, ordinary time, ordinary water, ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary people become what they were created to be- holy.
In worship heaven and earth kiss. We are gathered up into the joyous embrace of God. It is meant to be joyous; and maybe even exciting.
When my children were small, they loved to jump off of almost anything into our arms. “Catch me! Catch me!” and then they would leap- off a wall, off the stair step, off the back of the couch. Full of joy, completely sure we would catch them, they flung themselves toward us.
“Lift up your hearts.”
“We lift them up to the Lord” or maybe we should just say, ” Catch me!”
I’d like to know, what do you think?
* Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read this. My guess is something by Anne Dillard or Ann Lamott. If you know, would you let me know?