work FOR?

work FOR?

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.

Theology

Here’s another of those words that has somehow lost its way. We think of it as “words about God,” and that certainly is how it gets used—in the same root-word paradigm of theos: God and logos: word as happens with “liturgy.” But that’s not how the early church and their late-antique religious compatriots used the word. For them, theology is the active searching for words with which to hymn God. This blog, as an experiment in constructive liturgical theology, is “a work undertaken for the people of God so that the church may more adequately find its words and music to hymn God.”

Welcome—and come join the conversation.

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  1. […] work of the people.” As I have learned in preparation for this post (from here, here, and here), though, that literal translation is not exactly correct. Rather, liturgy was originally more akin […]

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